Employee Spotlight: Schmidt sweeps the ice

If you’re in Madison, Wis., on a Wednesday evening, you’ll find Tom Schmidt sweeping and throwing stones on a 150-foot-long sheet of ice. Schmidt, reinsurance adjusting services operations manager at Grinnell Mutual, is a competitive curler — drawn to the sport because of its blend of strategy and camaraderie.

“For me, curling is like playing chess,” says Schmidt, a 12-year veteran of the game. “The difference is chess is one on one, but curling is a team sport. You have to work as a team.”

What is curling?

With nearly 4,000 curlers, Wisconsin has the largest concentration of curlers in the U.S., according to USA Curling.

You may have seen the game played during the Winter Olympics. Curling is equal parts teamwork, skill, and strategy. Curling is played on a sheet of ice 16 feet, 5 inches wide by 150 feet long. A 12-foot circle — the “house” — is the scoring area. A game is made up of two four-person teams playing 10 “ends,” similar to baseball innings. Sweeping (with a straw broom or a hog hair, horsehair, or synthetic brush) adds an element of fitness to curling because, to be effective, sweeping must be very vigorous.

The camaraderie of curling

Curling can create lifelong friendships. Schmidt is a skip (captain) on a team with the friend who introduced him to curling a dozen years ago, and  has met a wide variety of fellow curlers from professors and researchers to entrepreneurs and the board members of major companies.

“It’s great for networking. After you finish playing the other team, it is considered proper etiquette to sit with the other team for 15 to 30 minutes after the match and converse with them and build relationships,” he says.

In addition to weekly league games, many clubs participate in bonspiels, curling tournaments that also include food and beverage.

Madison hosts an intraclub bonspiel. For one weekend they’ll put kegs of beer on the ice. Hilarity ensues for those who participate,” says Schmidt.

Life lessons on ice

In addition to serving on the ratings and advancement committees, Schmidt serves as a shift captain once a week, enforcing the rules and organizing players, teams, and the schedule. More importantly, curling has given Schmidt perspective on what matters.

“Curling has made me a better person. At the end of the day, you used to be able to see the frustration in my face,” says Schmidt. “Now, I don’t get upset — I’m a vast improvement from who I used to be.”