Former college basketball player, now Paralympian, lends advice to be would-be curlers

Monday, October 07, 2019

HONOLULU (StarAdvertiser) -

Twenty-five years ago former University of Connecticut basketball player Steve Emt was driving home alone after drinking when he lost control of his truck on the interstate and flipped several times.

That accident, which severed his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the waist down, drastically changed his outlook on life.

Today, Emt, 49, is a member of the U.S. Paralympic wheelchair curling team and travels around the country speaking to teenagers and at schools about the dangers of drinking and driving. He’s also participating in a three-day event in Honolulu as part of an American Savings Bank curling fundraiser for We Are Oceania, a local organization which advocates for the overall health and well-being of the Micronesian community in Hawaii. The organization is a program of the nonprofit Partners in Development Foundation.

The seventh annual event, which singles out a different local organization each year, raised $100,000 for We Are Oceania.

Emt said he was rolling around in his wheelchair about six years ago in Cape Cod, Mass., when a man came up to him and asked him if he was from the area. Emt said he was from Connecticut about 2-1/2 hours away. The man told Emt that he was with the Paralympic wheelchair curling team in Cape Cod.

“He said, ‘I saw you pushing up the hill, and with your build I could make you into an Olympian in a year,’ to which I said, ‘What the heck is curling?’” Emt recalled Wednesday at the Ice Palace. “I had never heard of it before. A week later I went back to the Cape, I threw my first couple stones and fell in love with the sport. From then on it’s just been crazy.”

Curling, which is played on ice, involves participants sliding stones across the surface toward a four-ring target area called the house. Points are scored for the stones resting closest to the center of the house. Two sweepers with brooms direct the path of the stone as it slides down the ice. The sport is growing in popularity in the U.S. since the American team won the gold medal last year.

Emt was a member of the U.S. Paralympic team that competed in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and recently made the team again that will compete in the Beijing Games in 2022. But March 24, 1995, the night that changed his life forever, is never far from his mind. “Fortunately, I didn’t kill anybody else or myself,” Emt said. “I’m lucky to be sitting here today in a wheelchair. I’m lucky to be paralyzed and I live every day like it’s my last and I just love life. I was alone. It was late at night. I made a bad decision. Life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.”

Following his accident, he taught seventh-grade math for 20 years before retiring and taking on the task of traveling around to schools to educate students about making good decisions.

On Wednesday morning, he joined Olympic gold medalist curler Tyler George at the Ice Palace to teach students from Kanoelani Elementary School the techniques of the sport. During the afternoon and evening sessions, Emt and George assisted 20 six-person teams representing businesses around the state during a curling competition. The cost to participate in the event was $5,000 per team for the afternoon session and $7,500 per team for the evening session.

George, who was in three Olympic trials before his team qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, said it was a lifelong dream to compete in the Olympics.

“It was my fourth Olympic trials and my teams had failed to get through the previous three times and so that was kind of my mountain to climb to get to the Olympics,” he said. “I thought if that could ever happen then something special could happen, and that’s how it turns out (by winning a gold medal).”

George is now retired from competing and travels around the country as an ambassador for USA Curling, promoting the sport and helping clubs grow their membership. He was at last year’s American Savings Bank event in Hawaii and said he welcomes the opportunity to come to the state.

“Most of our curling lives are spent in very cold atmospheres so my particular job allows me to travel to a lot of warm-weather places because that’s where the sport is growing now in the United States,” George said. “Hawaii, in particular, is one place if I have a chance to come down … we don’t miss it.”