At the Tim Hortons Brier in March 2016, Team Canada's Pat Simmons and Team Ontario's Glenn Howard invited Craig Savill, who was battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the time onto the ice at TD Place arena to throw lead rocks for Team Ontario. Savill, Howard and Simmons were recently named recipients of the World Fair Diploma by the International Fair Play Committee for this act of sportsmanship. Courtesy Michael Burns, Curling Canada.

Savill’s cancer comeback capped with Award

By Alana Thoman

The Ottawa Curling Club’s Craig Savill, along with fellow elite curlers Glenn Howard and Pat Simmons, have been named the recipients of the World Fair Play Diploma by an international sports body after a touching act of sportsmanship at the March 2016 Tim Hortons Brier in Ottawa.

Team Canada’s Simmons and Team Ontario’s Howard invited Savill, who was battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the time, to throw lead rocks in the eighth end for Ontario during a match in his hometown Brier — the Canadian men’s curling championships — at TD Place Arena.

The World Fair Play Award, bestowed annually by the France-based International Fair Play Committee, is given in the form of a trophy, diploma or letter to athletes or other individuals who have made a remarkable show of sportsmanship or are promoting fair play through an organization, writings or other advocacy.

The award had never been won by a curler before it was announced that the Canadian trio would be honoured this year.

In the past, the prize has been presented for various heartfelt acts of fair play, such as the moment at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro when New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin fell to the ground during a 5,000-metre race and accidentally brought U.S. rival Abbey D’Agostino down with her.

D’Agostino helped Hamblin up instead of continuing the race before realizing she had suffered an ankle injury. Hamblin then tended to her American competitor and encouraged D’Agostino to join her in finishing the race.

This year’s award is to be presented at a ceremony in Brussels on Nov 17, but none of the Canadian curlers can attend the ceremony due to Olympic pre-trials taking place from Nov. 6-12 in Summerside, P.E.I. That event is followed by a Grand Slam event in Sault Ste. Marie the week after. Simmons said he believes Canada’s ambassador in Belgium is going to accept the award on the three curlers’ behalf.

Savill, who lives in Manotick and practises out of the O’Connor Street OCC, said he found some lumps under his armpit in August 2015 and then in his shoulder and neck area. After completing some tests, he was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s lymphoma and started his treatment in December 2015.

Several months after his brief Brier appearance, Savill was told that he had no cancer cells detectable in his body. He has since made a return to curling and is currently acting as a fifth man and coach for Team Reid Carruthers from Winnipeg, one of the contenders to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The Canadian men’s and women’s representatives at the Pyeongchang Games will be decided at next month’s Roar of the Rings tournament in Ottawa.

Simmons said he was shocked by the international recognition, but added that it is a great honour for Canadian curling and was a special moment they were all lucky to be a part of.

“It is great recognition for the sport of curling because there are lots of acts of sportsmanship that take place day in and day out with respect to our sport,” said Simmons. “We are lucky to have some great people involved with curling.”

Simmons said everyone in the community of top Canadian curlers knew what Savill was going through in early 2016, and how much he had wanted to play in his hometown Brier. So there was talk between his ex-teammates Howard and John Morris — another Ottawa Curling Club product — and the whole thing came together nicely as Team Ontario and Team Canada were playing in the last round-robin game of the tournament.

“Obviously there was ties on both sides with his history with Glenn, and his history with John on our team, and at the end of the day I think it was just a real neat moment for all of us,” said Simmons.

Savill has won two Brier titles and two world men’s championships with Team Howard, and has also won two world junior championships with Morris. Savill’s former teammate Brent Laing, who was representing Alberta at the 2016 Brier, also had a hand in arranging for the ailing Savill to throw rocks at the Brier match in Ottawa.

Savill said before the Brier occurred, there were many people trying to help him become an honorary fifth man for one of the teams. Instead, the Canadian Curling Association decided to give him a pass for the event so he could sit on the bench for the draw in which he eventually played.

Savill said others behind the scenes who were working through the system to help him be a part of the Brier that week included Morris’s father Earle Morris – a legendary Canadian curler and longtime coach at the Ottawa Curling Club — and Richard Hart.

“People are still very humble in our sport and I couldn’t imagine going through something like this without the curling community,” said Savill. “For these teams to forget about their game for a second and let me have that moment is truly what curling is all about.”

Eddie Chow, the vice-president of the Ottawa Curling Club who was present at the 2016 Ottawa Brier as a volunteer, said it was incredibly heart-warming to see Savill appearing on the ice in the eighth end taking a practice slide.

“The crowd gave him a lengthy standing ovation, and even the other curlers on the ice were tapping their brooms to applaud Craig,” said Chow. “It was certainly one of those special moments in curling, and I am very pleased that the sports world also recognized this special moment.”

Savill said the Brier took place just past the halfway mark in his cancer treatments, which were wearing him down.  He said he would feel out of it for five or six days after his treatments every two weeks, but that the Brier appearance was the perfect event to keep him smiling.

“As soon as I almost felt like I was back to normal, I would go back to the hospital again and get another hit, so I was getting kind of tired of that and it was wearing on me,” said Savill. “So then I get this and it was kind of a boost and kept me smiling for a couple more months until my treatments were finished. So it was sort of perfect timing.”