OTTAWA — He’s 27 and having the time of his life, a quasi-professional in the world of amateur curling with a shot at going to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Yet Brett Gallant, on some days, curls with a heavy heart.
He is the second on Brad Gushue’s Newfoundland and Labrador team, in the engine room with Geoff Walker, arguably the finest front end in the game today.
And a big engine Gallant is, a V8 standing about 6-4 and 200-plus pounds, an athlete who may be sometimes mistaken for a hockey player or soccer player moreso than a curler.
But when you grow up in a curling household, chances are you’re going to be a curler.
At least that’s the way it was for Gallant, whose curling pedigree runs deep, with parents who just happen to be Hall of Famers.
“Around my house,” he says, “curling was always on TV, and I was always at the rink.
“They tried to put me on skates, but I said, ‘No thanks.’ I just wanted to be at the curling rink.
“It’s all I’ve ever known.”
His father, Peter Gallant, is one of the finest curlers to hail from Prince Edward Island, at least until Brett came along, makin
g nine Brier appearances, winning four provincial mixed and one provincial senior championships over a 28-year career as a player.
In 1987, he skipped a P.E.I. team to the Canadian mixed championship.
Mom Kathie Gallant is no curling slouch, either, winner of a P.E.I, junior championship and three provincial women’s championships, one as skip. She also won six provincial mixed championships.
As competitive curlers go, the Gallants were pretty busy competing and travelling, and so it was actually Brett’s grandfather, Lorne Burke, who introduced him to the game.
Burke, too, is part of P.E.I. curling royalty, a Hall of Famer who was actually inducted with his daughter, Kathie, in 2011.
His lengthy career includes a berth in the 1970 McDonald Brier in Winnipeg, three years after he curled for P.E.I. at the first Canada Winter Games held in Quebec City.
“He was the one I practised with mainly for the first 10 years I was curling, from the time I was four right through my teens,” Brett Gallant said the other day.
“I used to love to go to the rink with him, just to throw rocks.”
Lorne is still around, in his mid-80s now, but he’s not in the best of health. He’s in respite care back in Charlottetown, in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
As much as he would have loved to see his grandson curl in these Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Trials, Lorne Burke is oblivious.
Even last year, when Gallant helped the Gushue team win the Brier in the most thrilling fashion, Burke was only partially aware of the event unfolding in St. John’s.
“He was here and there last year,” said Gallant. “He knows that I’m the curler. He remembers that.
“But now, nothing really makes sense to him.”
This is Gallant’s sixth full season with Gushue, after being a highly-regarded recruit – think of a No. 1 overall draft pick – who won the 2009 Canadian juniors and finished second in the worlds.
He remains the winningest men’s skip at the Canadian juniors with 48 victories.
Gallant’s first event with Team Gushue came in the spring of 2012, in his home province at the Players Championship hosted by Summerside.
He had just finished skipping his own men’s team, which had finished second in provincials two years in a row.
And now here he was on the same ice as his boyhood idols, legends of the game like Kevin Martin and Jeff Stoughton.
“It was a thrill for me, and it was a thrill for him seeing me out there,” Gallant recalls. “I remember growing up and being on the ice with him, pretending to be those guys.
“That was a special time, for both of us.”
Today, Gallant would love nothing more than to win the Trials and book a trip to the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
He’d also love to have his grandfather around to see it all unfold.
But some things, perhaps, aren’t meant to be.
“There’d be nobody more proud,” he says, choking up. “Nobody. But, you know, he’s been there for a lot, too.
“I’m really thankful for that.”