If you didn't know it was there, you might drive right by the Plainfield Curling Club without realizing it. Inside you'll find two sheets for curling. The sounds of brooms, rocks gliding on the ice and shouts of "hard" are frequent.
This is Dean Gemmell's sanctuary. He makes the 30 minute trip south five times a week for matches and to serve as the club's president. It's a sport from his youth that's re-entered his life since moving to New Jersey, and now the Short Hills resident will be heading to his second straight U.S. Curling Nationals Championship in March.
"(Curling) just gets in you," Gemmell said. "Once it gets in you, you can't get it out."
When Gemmell and his wife moved to Short Hills from Michigan six years ago, they had two requirements on where they would move. They had to be someplace where Gemmell's wife could commute to Manhattan on the train easily and where he would have access to a curling club.
It's a sport that had been missing from Gemmell's life for about 15 years. Growing up in Canada, he curled and even made it to the Canadian national curling championships as a 20 year old. But then he met his eventual wife, an American, and he came south, working in the advertising business.
And when they moved to Michigan, he was too far from a curling facility to play, but he found other avenues to stay involved with the sport. Specifically he started a podcast called The Curling Show. Among other things, he interviews the who's who of the curling world.
The show has grown popular and he has about 10,000 listeners. "You need to be addicted to curling to listen to it," Gemmell said.
But he wanted to play, and that's what he was able to do when he came to New Jersey. The Plainfield Curling Club is the only such club in New Jersey, and it draws players from hours away in the state. In his first year back playing, it was Gemmell's main competition.
He started meeting other players, and he met Matt Hames, who lives near Buffalo, because he listens to his podcast. Hames is the skip on Gemmell's team that will head to the national championships.
"We started playing together and then last year we made the challenge round," Gemmell said. Teams that do not outright win a spot in the national championships can qualify for the challenge round. The winner in the challenge round earns a bid to the national championships.
"We've improved as a team," he said of this year's team. "Last year we were prone to errors at bad times." But 2009 also was his first year back at a high level of competition and he needed to re-adjust.
While winning the national championship this year is a goal, it's not the year an Olympic team will be chosen. "The goal is to get to the Olympics," Gemmell said. "But there's a lot of curling between now and then."
While the competition isn't at the level as it is in Canada, there are plenty of good curlers in the United States, Gemmell said. "It's fairly intense," he said.
He compared the game to golf where most of the game is mental. When playing at that higher level, the curlers are thinking three, four or five shots ahead.
But that doesn't mean the sport isn't physically demanding, especially sweeping.
In curling, the goal is to get your rock—the stone curlers slide across the ice—as close to possible as the center of the rings, which is called the house. Sweeping allows curlers to add as much as 15 feet to a throw.
And the physical demands are why Gemmell helped write "Fit to Curl" with John Morris, a Canadian curler. It's a training guide for curlers.
But that doesn't mean only those in top physical form can curl. Gemmell said there is a competition level for everyone, and it's a social sport. He's formed many friendships over the years because of curling.
With it being an Olympic year and curling in the spotlight again, Gemmell and the Plainfield Curling Club is expecting people will want to try the sport. The club will hold an open house on Feb. 28 at 2-6 p.m. where anyone can try the sport for free. Also, throughout the Olympics the facility will be open to visitors to watch, try and learn curling.
If people are interested enough to learn more, they can sign up for the club's basic learn to curl class. It's a six to eight hour course that costs $40. If people want to continue to curl after the basic course, they can join the club, which already has about 160 members. Gemmell said most people who take the course join the club.
"It's a great time to try the sport," he said.