By Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Mixed emotions were at play in recent weeks as Colin Hodgson considered retirement from competitive four-player curling.
The 32-year-old lead has a lot to look forward to away from the pebbled ice. Hodgson, who owns and operates the Dynasty Curling apparel company, is getting married this summer and is now a volunteer firefighter.
He recently enjoyed one of the highlights of his career, teaming with Darren Moulding to help Tanner and Jacob Horgan qualify for their first Tim Hortons Brier together by winning the Northern Ontario playdowns.
And he’ll have plenty of friends and family at Budweiser Gardens over the next week to cheer him on at his last Canadian men’s curling championship before leaving the men’s team game at season’s end.
“Just to have it out there, takes a lot of pressure off,” Hodgson said. “I can actually enjoy the moment rather than knowing inside, in my heart, that this is the last one and it’s a big secret.
“I don’t think that was going to be a path to success for the team. Hopefully we can rally around it.”
Hodgson made his retirement plans official Thursday night — on the eve of round-robin competition — with a statement on social media.
I have some news to share. I'm grateful for you all. Keep on being you. pic.twitter.com/y7pLC18Ics
— Colin Hodgson ?????? (@C_hodgy) March 3, 2023
When he steps away, he’ll get a chance to properly rest a nagging quadriceps issue. The travel has also been tough, often feeling like two trips in one given the location of his home in Red Lake, Ont., about 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.
Hodgson also won’t miss some of the other off-ice challenges, including “fighting some battles” with Curling Canada.
He also feels the domestic sport appeals process is stacked against athletes not chosen for a national team program, many of whom don’t have resources to pay for legal representation over an extended period.
“I definitely feel railroaded and blacklisted,” Hodgson said. “Those are words that I’m pretty strong about. And I’ve seen it happen to other athletes.”
Hodgson said at times he hasn’t felt supported as an athlete by the federation, adding it’s “taken a huge toll” over the last couple of years and sapped “a lot” of his competitive drive.
“In ways it’s motivated me to try to not have other people have the same experience I have (had),” he said. “I think that’s led me a lot to deciding that maybe I can better use my time spent other ways to help other people.”
Specifics on athlete/organization disputes usually remain confidential. If a case reaches the level of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, only arbitrated decisions are publicly released.
“Curling Canada wishes Colin the very best going forward. We hope he makes this Brier a memorable one,” an organization spokesman said.
Speaking in general terms, Hodgson said the main issues he has experienced have been “mostly — if not entirely — about money and (team) funding and self-preservation.”
“I feel we’ve had major issues over the years with communication, with trust, with athletes not feeling like they can say what they think — truly — without fear of reprimand or just bad things happening to them,” he said. “That’s kind of been behind the scenes for a long time and now it’s starting to come out.”
A member of the AthletesCAN diversity and equity advisory committee, Hodgson has been outspoken on issues within the sport over the years.
He was one of several curlers who spoke out when Curling Canada unveiled a pregnancy exemption policy this season that was limited to top-five teams. The organization later opened it up to all rinks at the national playdowns.
“It was something so egregious that all the athletes and the public could get behind, that public pressure made that rule change happen, because it was not fair, it wasn’t just and it made no sense to so many people,” Hodgson said in a recent interview.
“But when things get done in boardrooms and in closed conversations away from everybody, that leads to these kinds of things happening.”
Hodgson, whose company is Curling Canada’s official uniform partner, previously played lead for Manitoba-based teams skipped by Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers. This is his first season with the Sudbury, Ont.,-based foursome.
Hodgson said he’d been mulling retirement for a long time, but really knew he made the right decision when the squad won the provincial crown in Kenora, Ont.
He added his teammates were “incredibly supportive” of his decision.
“Congrats on an amazing career buddy!” Moulding said on Twitter. “This is the start of more amazing things for you … let’s make this Brier amazing!”
Hodgson said there’s more in the sport he wants to do, noting he has enjoyed teaching, holding junior clinics and working with different groups on inclusivity. He still plans to play mixed doubles with Chelsea Carey in the future.
This will be Hodgson’s sixth career Brier appearance. He also played at the last two Olympic Trials, going 4-4 with Carruthers in 2017 and 4-4 with McEwen in 2021.
Northern Ontario was scheduled to begin its round-robin schedule on Saturday at Budweiser Gardens against Carruthers and his Wild Card 2 team.
“The Brier is going to be there and I can play through that (leg) pain one more time and give it everything I can,” he said. “Just to have that moment with fans, my family and friends there. That’s what I’m looking for.”