From Vermont to Nigeria...to the Olympics?

Thursday, July 27th

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- On a warm Summer evening in Burlington, Rice alumnus Chris Neimeth is on the ice at Gutterson Fieldhouse, joining his parents at a learn to curl event put on by the Green Mountain Curling Club. But Neimeth is far from a beginner in the sport

"I think the first thing that can kind of be a struggle for people is just like getting the mechanics down, getting the slide down. And then after that I think it can become pretty easy to compete at least casually.", says Chris.

But this born and bred Vermonter is getting set to compete on the world stage...for the Nigerian national curling team.

Neimeth says the reaction he gets to being a part of the Nigerian team is wide ranging.

"It's definitely a mixed bag. People that know me, it's not a surprise. But sometimes people that don't really know me are like, 'Oh, you're Nigerian?' It's not really what people picture I think."

Like everyone else on the team, Chris Neimeth is a Nigerian citizen. His father Charlie was born in the country while his grandfather was working there in the pharmaceutical field. It was his grandfather that inspired Chris to return to the country and get involved

"He told me, he was like, 'This is the thing I'm most proud of, these are the people I'm most passionate about working with. And if you can, find a way to get involved. And so I've kind of always been looking for that.", says Chris.

Chris and his father Charlie visited the country back in March to serve as teachers and coaches for students in Lagos and plan to return next month. It's an opportunity for the Neimeths to connect with their roots, and to give back.

"I think ultimately it's about helping people and a chance to make a difference in people's lives. To go over and see what it's like in Africa, there's a tremendous amount of poverty and despair, and introducing things like this can really uplift the people and I think help them get ahead.", says Charlie.

Now as for the other thing you've probably been wondering about...Nigeria has a curling team?

"So our team was started by this guy Daniel Damola. He lives in germany, kind of learned about it there, got really passionate about seeing it in the Olympics...he was also kind of inspired by the Nigerian Bobsled team, and he kind of saw the potential that Nigeria had to step into Winter sports.", says Chris.

"Yeah I think a lot of people ask why curling? Why Nigeria, right? Well, Nigeria's got a good legacy of good athletes and a very strong population. I think they see the opportunity to go out there and be successful on the world stage.", adds Charlie.

Now obviously ice time in Nigeria is a little bit of an issue...but they've got a way around that.

"When I go there, we do what's called dry curling. It's like this plastic sheet thing where you curl with like these modified stones so they slide better on that.", says Chris.

They're trying to raise money to build a curling center, but to get that kind of investment, they need to prove they can be competitive on the world stage. Two of Chris' teammates became the first African team to ever win a match at the Curling World Championships back in April, and Chris will get his shot with the 4-man team later this year.

"It's definitely amazing. It's not something I ever expected, it's not something that I ever thought I would be in a position to do, but it's amazing and I hope to enjoy it as much as I can, and really just do well and represent all the people I represent well.", says Chris.

Chris and the men's team will get their first chance to compete and the Pan Pacific Curling Championships in Beijing. Do well enough there, and they have a shot at qualifying for world's. The dream? To be back in Beijing in February of 2022 at the Winter Olympics.