Jennifer Westhagen has a special affinity with Richmond, and specifically the Pacific International Cup (PIC) club curling championships staged here each spring.
It was at the tournament she met her future life partner, Matt Panoussi, who are proud parents of 16-month-old Josh.
“Josh could be considered a PIC baby,” Jennifer says. “Matt (who was playing on a men’s team representing Australia) and I (curling on women’s team from Washington) would never have met if weren’t for the PIC.”
This year’s 20th anniversary PIC tournament, bringing together club champions from around the world for five days of competition and camaraderie April 17 to 21 at the Richmond Curling Centre, will be Westhagen’s ninth. The first five times she represented Washington state, but has since been making the lengthy trek up from Australia. It’s a long haul, but one that has become a welcomed tradition for Westhagen and Panoussi, who’ll again be representing the ‘land down under’ as skip of the Australian men’s team.
Westhagen has curled everywhere, from North Dakota to Minnesota, Nova Scotia to Michigan, and Finland to Korea. But Richmond, of course, is special.
One of Australia’s most enduring figures, Kevin the Kangaroo will also be making the trek from down under. The mascot is one of the most popular figures in the 20-year history of the Pacific International Cup and is anxious to share the joys of the world’s foremost club curling championships.
While Kevin is always accommodating, willingly posing for photos, it’s important to recognize he’s as patriotic as they come. His allegiance is to the Land Down Under, and the Australia women’s team specifically.
This year, Westhagen, who will skip, is joined on the Australian women’s team by vice Beata Bowes, who after 10 years of curling (starting out in the United Kingdom) will be making her first trip to the PIC; second Katherine Hayes, who got to know Westhagen while stuck on a desert (Solomons) island (while their teammate Stephanie Barr was stranded at the Brisbane airport); and lead Roslyn Gallagher (who met Westhagen playing soccer for the South Yarra Soccer Club).
All the members reside in Melbourne and members of the Victorian Curling Association. While they’re competing at the PIC, their league season will be just getting started.
“We travel a lot together,” Westhagen explains. “Our nationals are in New Zealand as they have the only dedicated ice in the southern hemisphere.”
The team spends an inordinate a mount of time in the 100-person town of Naseby in the middle of the south island. But Westhagen says the hospitality is “amazing.”
“Australia is far from everything, so we travel to curl (as well as) for other things (like Westhagen’s and Panoussi’s wedding last July in Hawaii which the entire women’s team attended).”