Family first: Manitoba skip Tracy Fleury confidently passes the reins to Chelsea Carey

·5 min read

There really wasn't any deliberation, or questioning or wondering, of what might be for Manitoba skip Tracy Fleury.

The decision was obvious — family first.

Fleury will not be skipping her No. 2-ranked Manitoba team inside the Calgary bubble at the Scotties. Her 7-month-old daughter's health is the only thing that matters right now.

"She's just a little sweetheart. She's brought so much joy into our lives. I think especially since she became sick, it's taught us even more to appreciate the small things," Fleury told CBC Sports while holding back tears. "We're just trying to enjoy every moment."

Fleury's daughter Nina, born this past July, has been diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, called infantile spasms.

"She was having seizures in November and was hospitalized for eight days," Fleury said. "Now she's on a treatment plan and is doing well considering everything."

But these last number of months have been harrowing for the first-time mother, barely thinking about curling.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty at this point. We're waiting on tests," Fleury said. "It's time to focus on family right now. Travelling right now wouldn't be in Nina's best interest. It was the decision that had to be made. My team has been so supportive."

She knew her team still wanted to be at the Scotties.

Little Nina has been seizure-free since November but Fleury had to let her team know well in advance of the Scotties she wouldn't be attending. So they reached out to two-time Scotties champion and Manitoba-born skip Chelsea Carey.

"My heart hurts for Tracy. I can't imagine what that's like for her. She should be there. And that's even more motivating for me," Carey told CBC Sports from her home in Calgary.

"I wish the circumstances were way different. I wish she could play. It's her team. No one wants to come in, in that situation. I'm grateful for the opportunity to play and I'm being included in it."

Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Mutual respect

There is a mutual respect between Carey and Fleury that goes far beyond the ice. They know each other well, having battled so many times before. But there's been nothing like this.

And they both feel the weight of the situation.

"She's done a fantastic job so far," Fleury said. She's fitting in very well. We're so grateful she's stepping into the role and she's just such a high-calibre skip."

Carey has been doing everything she can to learn how the team plays and how she can fit in since she first got the call — that includes spending countless hours watching film from Team Fleury's past games.

It's about all she can do with restrictions keeping her and many others off the ice.

"I thought I'd be watching on TV. I had made my peace with that," Carey said. "I love the Scotties. I grew up watching it. It's the thing I dreamed about."

She's a fierce competitor who has won the title twice. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Carey attended the Scotties first for her home province of Manitoba.

But both of her Scotties wins came as the Alberta representative. She moved to Calgary six years ago and has been representing the wild rose province ever since.

Interestingly, both times she won, it was in the first year with a new team.

Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

Deep connections

After her team disbanded last season, she yet again finds herself with a new rink heading to a Scotties, and is hoping third time's a charm.

"My track record with first year teams is pretty good. I don't know what's different about that. Maybe you're in a honeymoon phase," she said. "First year teams are one thing. You've already played 10 events by that point. This is something completely different."

It will take a bit of adjusting but these players aren't strangers to each other. Carey has personal connections with each Fleury team member.

She's played alongside Fleury third, Selena Njegovan, and lead, Kristin MacCuish, at a Continental Cup before.

And second, Liz Fyfe, feels like family.

Liz's father, Vic Peters, and Carey's father, Dan Carey, won a Brier together for Manitoba in 1992. Peters died of cancer on March 27, 2016 at the age of 61.

"They lived next to us growing up. We moved into our house in 1991. They moved in a couple years later. We grew up playing Barbies, playing together as kids."

And now they're together again.

The team has done countless video calls to prepare the best they can — Fleury has been on as many of those calls as possible.

"I feel their love and support," Fleury said.

"Right now it's a good distraction for me following the team. I'm helping with some Scotties prep here and there. I'll be cheering for them."

It's not the way Carey ever imagined getting back to a Scotties at this point of her curling career. But it's right in front of her now, with the added pressure of playing for not only herself, but Fleury too.

"I'm humbled by the idea that it's not just about me. That's always the case but this situation, being what it is, is a whole different feeling," Carey asid.

"I'm honoured they asked me and I'll try to live up to that. I'm going to try and do them justice."

The Scotties begins Friday, Feb. 19 and the championship game will be played on Sunday, Feb. 28. The event will be held inside the Markin McPhail Centre — the Calgary curling bubble for the next couple of months.