THUNDER BAY, Ont. — Hans Madsen, with his funky wigs and bedazzled beard, is back.
Sitting contently in one of the front rows of the Tournament Centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., is Madsen, alongside his wife Judy, soaking up the curling action.
He’s wearing an orange wig and has curling rings painted onto his full, white beard.
“It feels awesome,” he said, grinning. “It just feels so good to be back with so many great people. They were wondering about me.”
There was a time not too long ago Madsen thought he’d never watch another curling bonspiel.
It was last December when the 69-year-old construction worker from Yorkton, Sask., was in a battle for his life. Madsen had been diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma, an aggressive form of cancer.
His entire face and neck had been scoped and 26 lymph nodes removed, but Madsen wasn’t about to miss the Olympic curling trials in Ottawa.
But at that event, his iconic beard was gone due to the surgery which removed his glands and lymph nodes.
For years, Madsen has painted his beard, put sparkles in it and decked it out in a colourful array. He’s “that bearded curling fan” everyone knows — Madsen shows up at Grand Slam events, Briers, Scotties and world championships.
So with his beard gone, Madsen needed something to give the appearance that he was synonymous with.
To cover up the scars from the surgery but, perhaps more importantly, give Madsen that similar colourful bearded look, he got creative. It was actually his daughter and his wife, Judy, who helped him out. They made him beard socks — as he referred to them.
All week long in Ottawa last December, Madsen sat in the second row of the Canadian Tire Centre, alongside Judy, with a decorated beard sock around his neck. People hardly noticed his missing beard.
When that bonspiel ended, it marked the beginning of a long number of months away from the rinks for Madsen. Nobody saw him throughout the season. Many had been wondering about him.
Madsen makes triumphant return
When Madsen met with doctors at the end of last December, the diagnosis was bleak.
“They really didn’t know what to do next. It wasn’t good,” Madsen said. “I saw about eight different doctors without much hope.”
During one of the drives back from Saskatoon to Yorkton one late December night, Madsen received a call from a drug company saying he was the perfect candidate for a new experimental drug to fight his cancer.
“This lady called and said we’d like to try these treatments for two years and maybe even five years,” Madsen said. “We were dancing after that because we left the hospital that night with zero [years].”
It took a couple of months before Madsen’s body responded to the drugs, including a bad bout in January and February that had him using a walker to get around. But before long, his immune system kicked in and he started feeling better.
“It was like a mini miracle,” Madsen said. “I’ve been feeling better and better all the time.”
Back to curling
Madsen slowly recovered throughout the winter and spring months and was finally able to catch the last three days of the last Grand Slam event in Calgary in April — he kept a low profile.
But at the beginning of this season, Madsen mapped out his curling adventures. He took the train alongside Judy from Melville, Sask., to Chatham-Kent, Ont., for the first Slam event of this season.
This week, Madsen and Judy drove from Yorkton to Thunder Bay for their second Grand Slam event of the season.
“The players, fans, volunteers have been so kind and have treated me so well,” Madsen said. “It’s a curling crowd. Would you expect anything less?”
Madsen has big plans for the upcoming year. He’ll be at a number of curling events across Saskatchewan in January. He’s then travelling to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Nova Scotia. Madsen is finishing off the curling calendar year by returning to his home country of Denmark to watch the the 2019 women’s world curling championship.
“The venue is just a couple of hours away from where I was born,” Madsen said. “A year ago, I didn’t know if I’d make it. But I’ll be there.”