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Famed curler’s passion for sport carries onto next step of career

Community ProfileFamed curler’s passion for sport carries onto next step of career

Jo-Ann Rizzo has established herself as one of the most dedicated and accomplished curlers from Ontario over the last several decades.

Rizzo, who was inducted into the Brantford and Area Sports Hall of Recognition in 2018, explained her early beginnings of being introduced to curling and becoming passionate about it.  

“I lived [in Germany] because my dad was in the military. At that time, my mom was into curling and I got into it when I was 12, doing it recreationally; it was something to do. It was not on my radar to [be competitive] or go to the Olympics or anything like that. “When I moved to Canada, I continued to play recreationally but I tried to be more competitive as a junior for a year, and then when I went to university, I ended up playing varsity curling [where] we had lots of success. We won the province a couple of times. But that was before it went to a national competition,” Rizzo explained. “I had a really good coach, Jim Waite, …who ended up managing the men’s teams that went to the Olympics…He was like a mentor to me and [he] got all of us youngsters involved in trying to stay on the competitive route. I did that and stuck with it after university and then just kept going.”

Pictured here is Jo-Ann Rizzo (last to the right) along with her Northwest Territories team from left to right: Margot Flemming, Sarah Koltun and skip Kerry Galusha. Photo courtesy Curling Canada.

However, Rizzo would end up moving to the Brantford community, as her husband hailed from the area, and gained success on the national level.

“When I lived in Brantford all of my teammates lived in London so I played out there. I did that for several years. And then it slowed down a bit when I had kids, but I still played at a competitive level, but just within the province. There are various levels, you can play at [including] club level, provincial, and national,” Rizzo said “Most of my interest was just at a provincial level, [and] after playing in multiple provincial championships, I ended up connecting with Sherry Middaugh [and] formed a team…we had a lot of success on the tour. That’s what gave me a taste for competition [where we] competed against a lot of top [curlers] in the world.”

After eight years, the team’s success culminated in narrowly making a trip to the Olympics for a chance to represent Canada.

“The Olympic trials were a phenomenal experience. We were in Winnipeg; where the Jets play, in this huge venue and we were there in the finals. We lost to Jennifer Jones, and she went on to win the gold medal at the Olympics. I will never forget that experience. That was a highlight, even though it resulted in a loss. It was a very memorable moment for me,” said Rizzo.

Rizzo has been part of five Scotties tournaments (with the NWT team) as well as winning multiple provincial senior curling championships (2016, 2017, and 2022) and finishing second place overall in 2017 at the national championships and is also a former provincial mixed champion. Photo courtesy Curling Canada.

That team disbanded and Rizzo looked at what the next step of her curling career was.

“At that point, I was thinking of retiring, but I [still] wanted to go to a Scotties; that was on my bucket list. So, I reached out to Kerry [Galusha] in the Northwest Territories and asked if she needed a player. I was willing to play and I thought that was a good shot for me to get to a Scotty [Tournament] because [Galusha] had been there [many] times before,” Rizzo continued. “I was very thankful that she took a chance on me. And then we ended up staying together for five years and went to five Scotties, which was amazing. We went through injuries and I ended up being the last rock thrower, which isn’t really what I wanted, but I did embrace [the role.] And, it all worked out.”

Despite the success, the Northwest Territories team disbanded and marked Rizzo’s last Scotties. However, she then refocused on her club team and the senior national.

“I stopped playing national seniors while I was doing the Scottie thing. I then started up playing seniors and went to another senior’s national,” said Rizzo. “When you go to the Scotties, you’re basically playing two to three tournaments every month, and that’s a lot of time away.”

Here is another picture of Rizzo and the Northwest Territories team. After the team won the 2024 Northwest Territories berth into the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, they will be finishing out the season which would be their last together. Photo courtesy Curling Canada.

Along with continuing her passion for playing curling at the senior national level, Rizzo continues to see the growth of curling and how important it can be for others out there to become involved no matter what age or skill level.

“I watch curling on TV and see the high level of the play [and] hope that inspires some kids because you don’t have to take it up when you are 12 like me or start at five like others. You can become competitive no matter what age,” Rizzo explained. “Curling can be such a good way to get social, to meet people, and be active, especially in today’s day and age. Hopefully, [my own story] can be an inspiration as I was able to accomplish a lot of things that I didn’t even dream of.”

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