FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Cheryl Bernard
August 16, 2016
Many of us remember those headlines, or we watched, as Cheryl Bernard skipped her rink to an Olympian Silver Medal in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. I wondered, there must be more to her than rocks and brooms, and you may be wondering what she’s been doing lately. I interviewed her recently to explore two things – what is she made of that made her an Olympian, and what is she up to next?
Cheryl describes the tactics of curling as equivalent to chess on ice – studying opponents, tactics and risk taking.
Since her Olympic win she’s not strayed far from curling – she’s become a sports broadcaster covering curling for TSN. Nice gig, but it seems you need to know curling pretty well – and it probably doesn’t hurt to have a big smile and bubbly personality – which she does.
Born in Grande Prairie, transported to Calgary at the age of six months – she’s been a Calgarian ever since. She has a younger brother (chiropractor in Phoenix), her mom is a ‘very young 74’ and her dad, who parlayed his eighth grade education into business success and sold out in favour of retirement in Phoenix - but but a brain tumor took him 13 years ago. Her parents both curled. Her dad was her biggest fan …
She describes herself as “a workaholic, driven”. Her secret to achievement, “mental training, mental toughness.”
At eight Cheryl begged to curl and didn’t care for being told she was too young. She proved she could throw a rock and was allowed to start. By 16 she was skipping a competitive rink in the Junior Provincials. She wasn’t anti-social in high school – she just wasn’t around, spending all her after school recreation time at the curling rink. At 20, competing in ladies playdowns, where she always found herself as the skip, as the boss, wanting control, being at the center of getting the best out of her players.
… and the rest is history. Well, not really.
Two major events kept her out of the curling world for a long while – building her business and spending time with her dad when he was ill. So curling was on-pause for a long time. From 21 to 34 after trying college on for size and finding it didn’t fit, Cheryl started a general insurance agency. A friend of her dad provided sponsorship of her license – but she was on her own, starting as a one-person office, building from scratch. She built a strong profitable business. She sold out after 13 years to ING (now Intact) and was then free to focus on curling again, which she did. Her training regimen, still, is running and weights, working out six days a week. She says, “I have an addictive personality. And I smoked till I was 28 – then I quit”.
Her team building strategy – was to assemble coach, teammates (all three younger) who shared her zeal and commitment, and a sports psychologist – to get to the 2006 Olympics. They lost in the pre-trials and re-set their goal for 2010. Which meant ‘the tour’ all over the country every weekend from September to April, competing and honing their game – then resuming training in July each year. The wins piled up – you can find her stats etc. on her website.
The Olympic experience ‘competing for Canada’ was something I wanted to understand. Cheryl’s right forearm boasts two tattoos – Olympic rings, and a red maple leaf. That’s serious branding – and as she described the games, entering the stadium last (host country athletes are always the last entering) she lit up like the excited eight-year-old, describing playing for Canada as a profound experience and without a single regret. They won silver (which she describes as ‘losing the gold’), losing a tied gold medal game to the Swedes in an extra end. She led her team again in 2010 but they didn’t make it though the pre-trials. She retired two years ago.
She’s just returned from a trip to the Amalfi coast for her 50th birthday celebration.
I asked, what’s next? She’s working on that and will get back to me. I have a sense there is much more to come …
Why are you successful? “drive. I’m like the dog that won’t let go of the bone. Stubborn. I’m good at reading and understanding people. I like people – know how to treat people. Integrity. People see that in me and trust me.”
What has held you back? “I don’t know. I’m loyal to a fault – sometimes kept employees longer than I should have – but I don’t regret those choices.”
On personal family details Cheryl is pretty private - I didn't get much: No kids. One short marriage, divorce, ‘partnered 11 years now with Terry’.
How do you see your business – curling – going forward over the next quarter?
… at the elite level it is going strong. Sponsorship, TV coverage and the season is longer. Canada won Gold in both men’s and women’s in 2014, the sport is doing well at that level. Not so good otherwise – we need to attract more kids into the game. Cost of entry is low compared to other sports. I’m doing some camps with kids this year.
And over the next five years?
… growing. Broom technology is improving. Technology is becoming more important in training – from apps that measure deviation in shots, laser guidance for practicing. Sliders are getting better …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I like to support ‘local’. People I develop relationships with who’ve got my back. Trusting my gut.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Cheryl Bernard, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… today I’m much like I was building my insurance agency business – I under-promise and over-deliver.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I rule by committee. I like input, I’m not a dictator …
… the line gets blurred. It’s a struggle. I’ve never really had it.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… whether I’m doing a good job, and that I am doing everything I promised.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my parents. My dad showed me so much support in curling and in my business. My dad’s death, so young, was a shock – and has influenced me to take more risks. In the difficult times, in my business and in curling I remembered his advice: “what’s the worst that could happen? … and, after I answered he would say, “so what would you do?”
… golf (index is 16, and falling fast), travel – Amalfi coast this year, climbed Kilimanjaro last year. Giving back to the community – charity work with Goodwill and World Vision.
What do you read?
… mysteries, self development books. Sport psychology books. Golf books …
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