JOHN EPPING: Reaching for the top

John Epping
By Adam Freill

Despite being one of the top curlers in the world, John Epping still plans his own schedule and answers his own phone. That’s life at the top levels of his sport, so it’s a good thing that he loves what he does. If he didn’t, it would be hard to justify all of the juggling of work and family life that he and his teammates do to compete at the highest level of the game.

An Early Road To Success

John was introduced to curling by his mother. Her family has a solid history in the sport – his grandfather helped found a curling club in Peterborough, Ontario – so despite his father’s leanings toward hockey, John’s winters were spent throwing rocks rather than strapping on the blades. ”My dad was a really good hockey player – OHL level – but my mom won the battle when it came to curling over hockey,” he laughed during our recent interview. ”I got to play in a family bonspiel with my mom when I was 7. I won that, and from there, I knew it was going to be good.”

The Glamour And The Spotlight

Solidly in the Top-10 of the world rankings, and reaching as high as 4th so far, Team Epping is still grounded in the reality of curling, where the stars of the game juggle work, sport and family lives.

”We still have full-time jobs. We are still considered amateurs,” he reflected. ”We come home and go back to work on Monday, and then we hit the road somewhere else.”

All of that requires a supportive cast away from the rink. ”We are very lucky to have supportive spouses, all of us, that allow us to chase our dreams. Without that support, it definitely wouldn’t happen.

”We don’t have a CEO. We don’t have a president. There’s no treasurer or secretaries or staff. We do it all ourselves. As the skip, I end up running a lot of the admin side and figuring out where we are going to go. It’s unlike any other sport,” he says, adding that, ”It is like a small business where you are doing everything on your own.”

To help ease some of the business-side burdens of the sport, this year he and his team have engaged with an agent to help manage and build their brand, and keep aligned with sponsors and fans, both of which he’s quick to thank for their assistance and backing.

”We are a brand now. We have a following of people who support us, and we want to do the right things to give back to them.”

Leading By Example

Whether you are looking for success on the ice, in the boardroom or in front of a client, the key, says Epping, is to be accountable.

”Accountability is the biggest thing that I work on,” he says. ”We can talk a big game and say that we are going to do this or that, but it comes down to following through and really holding ourselves accountable.

”I’ve always been someone who has played fearless. I’ve never been afraid to lose. I’m in the Top 5 in the world, so you feel like you can beat everybody, but I’ve never cared if I lost by one point or 10 points, so I’ve always played fearless.”

He does his best to put that fearlessness and accountability into his role of skip. ”I think that the skip needs to be somebody who takes charge, and is not afraid to make decisions, knowing that they will affect other people, and not just yourself,” he says. ”Somebody who is going to take some chances, but hold themselves accountable, and admit when they have made some mistakes. Take that ownership.”

Of course, the role is not a one-way valve, so he also looks to his teammates so that the entire crew can be pushed to the peak of their performance.

”I think, as a leader, you want to be open to suggestions and feedback, and you want teammates who are okay with feedback.

”In the last couple of years, our team has started to focus on the team dynamic and really trying to understand how each other operates to stay in that great, healthy headspace. Knowing that you are not going to try and change how each other are, but are going to just understand each other and adapt and try and help that person the best way we can.

”It has helped in my own business and my own relationships to have a great understanding of yourself and what you bring to the team.”

Epping: The Facts

Hometown: Toronto

Club: Leaside Curling Club

Short-term goals: To continually be in the top 3 or 4 in the world and win the Brier

Long-term goal: The 2022 Olympics in Beijing

Favourite moments on the ice: The pressure of throwing the last rock

Favourite shot: In-turn angle raise


Did You Know?

John’s father-in-law owns Shipton’s Heating & Cooling in Hamilton, Ont.