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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

#BetweenTheSheets with Julie Hastings
We discuss team dynamics, #growthesport and #2016Scotties

What a treat I have in store for you #TwineTime fans this week.  While many celebrated the past long weekend, I was fortunate enough to sit down (virtually) and talk curling with a champion skip.  I am also excited to welcome the first female skip to the #TwineTime family: Julie Hastings!  Julie represented Ontario at the 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and has, remarkably, curled with the same team for over 20 years.  If you don't find that to be an accomplishment in and of itself, just take a look at how other top curling teams and players have changed during the same timespan.

We had a great conversation on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.....ok well beautiful for those of us in Calgary, unfortunately not the same weather conditions in Ontario.  We discussed the serious topics of curling dynamics and #BroomGate.  We discussed growing the sport through grassroots marketing and sports psychology.  I got to know more about the fun and rock side of Julie through some rapid fire questions.  And, of course, a little preview for the upcoming Scotties in Grande Prairie.  Let's go #BetweenTheSheets with Julie Hastings:

TwineTime (TT):  Welcome Julie to the #TwineTime family.  And thank you for joining me on a long weekend for this interview.

Julie Hastings (JH):  That's ok.  We got a lot of stuff done this morning.

TT:  Ok excellent.  Well I thought we could start off in talking about your team being a little unique in your team dynamic, being together for over 20 years.  I thought it would be great if you could perhaps share what is the secret to that success?  We aren't seeing this anymore, especially more recent.  What is your secret to success for staying together this long?

JH:  You know what, we have a great friendship and at the core that's how we stay together.  When we started, the four of us, it just happened.  When we got Stacey (Smith), she was the last ingredient to the puzzle.  We had a great year with her in our first year and have had great year's ever after.  Really there has been no reason for us to move on and find someone else.  We have just had a great time together.

TT:  Excellent.  Do you guys ever have that conversation anymore, on a regular basis?  We have seen a lot of teams say they have it every year, do you guys do the same?

JH:  Yeah, absolutely.  *laughing*  We are on a one-year plan.  I know all of the teams are on a four-year plan because of the Olympics but we are on a one-year plan, year to year.  We know everybody's life can change for whatever reason.  Stacey is pregnant.   My sister had a baby three years ago.  I've had two kids.  There are times when we cannot curl and I took two years off, one for each of my kids.  My sister took a year off.  But nobody has ever left the team to go somewhere else though.  It's usually just I need some time off, we need to find someone in the interim and we do.  Then we come back together once everyone is back ready to play.

TT:  You raise a great point in perhaps a major difference in the dynamic between a men's team and a women's team is the fact of having children.

JH:  Yeah, it's tough to plan.

TT:  *laughing* Can you plan it?

JH:  *laughing*  You can't plan it.  When you want one you kind of take it when they come.

TT:  Very fair.  Now I heard through your team twitter account you have added another member to the team for this upcoming season.  Would you like to share some details on this?

JH:  Yeah.  Because Stacey is pregnant she is going to cut back for part of the year and my sister is also going to cut back.  At the same time we said "Why don't you two share a position" and they were happy with that.  And we are bringing Katie Cottrill to the team at vice for this year.  It might be a two-year plan.  We will see what happens.

TT:  Would you guys then potentially be looking at bringing her on as you push for the Olympic trial berth too?

JH:  Sure.  I mean the Olympic trials are long, long away in our minds.  We are looking at the pre-trials.  That is what we think is a realistic goal.

TT:  Ah, excellent.  Now, in talking about teams jumping around, do you think the Olympics are the reason why we are seeing so many players jumping around and teams shifting?  It almost seems as soon as the off-season comes and teams are eliminated from provincial playdowns, rumors start flying right away.  Do you think there is an Olympic reason to this or is there more at play?

JH:  I don't know, I think it plays a part of it.  Curling can be looked at as a business for some people.  If this is your livelihood and what you are doing professionally, which many are trying to do, then you have to look at it from a business standpoint.  I think we have always seen it but I think the Olympics is just pushing it into the limelight because there is that four-year planning and doing.  I think when you know something is going wrong, you just know it and you need to make a change.  I think ultimately that is why teams change, there is probably a dynamic on the team that isn't working.  That is not to say there can't be four people who can't be friends but on the ice the dynamic is so different and if things aren't working it is really hard to keep pushing towards a four-year plan in a situation where everybody knows it's not working.  Even if it is just one person who has to leave the team, that one person does not want to stay on a team and not be given the opportunity to go find success elsewhere.  I would hope there are not too many hard feelings if everyone knows things are not going well.

TT;  That makes complete sense.

JH:  We are lucky though and we are happy.

TT:  For sure and you guys are the unique exception, but a positive unique exception I would say.

JH:  Yeah but that's not also to say we haven't had our disagreements.  We have had our arguments.  Never about anyone leaving the team but about things that just are not working.  We have worked through the difficult challenges and have become stronger in the end.  But, at the core, we are four really good friends.

TT:  Last season and after the last Olympic cycle, we saw a lot more jumping on the men's side than the women's.  Why do you think that is?  Is that just a difference in dynamics between men vs. women?  Or are the women's teams a bit more collected right now?  Why do you think that is?

JH:  Honestly, I don't really know because the concept really is so foreign to us.  We have never been involved in those kind of changes.  When the change came in where you could take a player from another province that brought a lot of changes.  You saw a lot of teams experimenting with players from outside of the province to see if they could get that extra player to add a certain skill level to the team.  Whether that is working for a team, I think some teams struggled but worked through it and it is working for them.  For other teams it didn't quite work and they have gone back to finding someone in their province.

TT:  Well, what do you think about that new rule?  Obviously it is a bit different since you guys are staying together but, in the grand scheme of the tour, do you like that rule in being allowed that one out of province player?

JH:  I'm a little bit indifferent to it.  I want everybody to be able to find the best combination regardless of where you are living, I do kind of get that.  But I do like that there is only allowed one person to be from out of province.  If you are going to go and represent your province in a Brier or Scotties, the core of your team should be from that province.  If there is only one person, I don't have a problem with it if people want to jump and do that.  My team has always really enjoyed practicing together.  But if teams want to try it and bring someone over from another province, I have no problem with that.

TT:  Ok, now obviously I have to ask this and in a way I hate having to bring it up but #BroomGate is sweeping across the country and the curling world.  I don't want to spend a lot of time on it as I think there is already a lot out there on it but what is your personal feeling about how it is all going on?

JH:  It is one of the most confusing things my team has ever gone through to be honest.  We entered a competition and at the beginning of the week we had our brooms approved.  Half way through the competition they weren't approved anymore because of the broom fabrics.  It is just the most confusing thing.  And now hair brooms being under the gun, I don't even know if our team really knows where to go with it.  We are trying to figure out what equipment we are using next year and we are so confused.  We didn't have any hair brooms this year.  We were told by a lot of different people, our coach, everybody has to have a hair broom on their team this year and now it's the flipside.  I think we are going to give it a pause, our team personally, and see where the chips fall over the summer and try to figure things out in the fall.  It is one of the most confusing things we have ever been through.  And if we are confused, I am sure many are.

TT:  Yeah it certainly feels that way.  I think you are also seeing it with the fans.  The fans are starting to get a little bit frustrated.  Do you think this is one of those negatives that will hopefully turn into a long-term positive for the sport?

JH:  Actually I think this has brought a lot of light to the sport, being on national news.  Overall, I think it is going to be a positive.  Maybe it started out as a negative and there was a lot of tension over the controversy but I think over time we are going to see a lot of positive press for the sport.  This is going to change our sport for the better for the future.  There is going to be more testing, more research done on what sweeping does.  There is all this speculation and all these theories out there but no concrete way to back them up at this point.  And if there is, I haven't seen it.  *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  Yeah I haven't either.  And I love your answer on taking the positive and focusing on what this is going to do for growing the sport ideally for the future, which I think is what we all want.

JH:  Right.  I mean if people are talking about our sport, from curlers to non-curlers, there is nothing wrong with that.  People are finding it amusing, it doesn't matter.  People are talking about it and that's what's great.

TT:  That's right.  Now drifting off of #BroomGate, or maybe back to it depending on your answer I suppose, but let's say I had some massive power to put you in charge of curling for one day, what one change would you implement today to help #growthesport?

JH:  A change that would help grow the sport?  I don't know if a change is really what we need.  I kind of like the sport the way it is.  I think to grow the sport it is about getting the message out there curling is accessible to every single person.  I feel it doesn't matter where you are, the message should be you can go to your local club, doesn't matter where you live, and walk in the door and ask questions.  Maybe the problem is people just are not aware of where they can go.  Where can they get information?  What website to go to?  Where is my nearest club?  How much will it cost?  Some people may think the sport will cost a lot of money.  What they are seeing on TV is the professional stuff but not seeing what is really happening at the grassroots level in the clubs.  A kid can even come to my club at the Bayview Golf & Country Club and sign up to play for $200 for an entire season.  That is pretty accessible to me.  When a kid can go and do a sport for 20 weeks for that amount of money.  There are not a lot of sports you can do that and with very little equipment needs.  You don't have to go and buy everything up front but you can still go and try it.  I think getting that message out for our young curlers and young people out there, people in their 20's and 30's, getting that message out there is what's needed.  I don't think the sport itself needs to change.

TT:  I love the answer.  I totally agree.  I think the grassroots marketing side of things is an opportunity to see growth.  I think it's a great answer.  Very cool.  Now let's talk a little more directly about you.  What is your big curling highlight?  You have years of experience, lots of great things on the curling resume,  what is the one highlight that stands out the most for you?

JH:  It has to be the Scotties.

TT:  I kind of assumed that would be your answer.

JH:  That has to be number one on the bucket list.  To go and experience that at least once in my lifetime, it was so cool.  It met all of my expectations, far and beyond.  It was amazing.  Number 1!

TT:  Definitely.  Now when you got to be at that Scotties and stepped on the ice for the first time with that Ontario jacket on, what was going through your head?  What was the feeling and emotion?

JH:  I almost don't even remember.  I think I was in just awe.  I was so thankful to be there.  So thankful to be with the team I was with.  I tried not to cry, I don't think I cried.  I was crying inside for sure.  It was pretty special.  To be honest, more than that, it was when we got our banner.  I think it was three-quarters through the week.  Every team gets their banner on a different night.  When we got our banner, I lost it and died thinking this is the coolest thing.

TT:  That is so cool.  The Scotties will always be that one memory.

JH:  Yup.

TT:  Now, on the flipside of it, we talk about the positives and now not necessarily the negatives but if you were given one chance to do a curling mulligan, whether a game or a shot or whatever, what would be yours?

JH:  Ok so it would be the 10th end of the 1995 Ontario Junior Women's Provincial Championship. It would be my sister's last rock.  This rock was coming down perfect.  If she makes this shot, we probably go on to win the Ontario Junior Women's Provincial Championship.  I got the sweepers off because the rock was coming in so well.  It started to curl, I got them back on but it was too late.  We chipped off the guard.  If they had swept it the whole way and got it to curl behind the guard, we were probably winning and playing at Canadian Juniors.  My whole team, it is probably the one shot we all want back.  It was heartbreaking.

TT:  Oh for sure.  It is interesting with the people I have been fortunate enough to interview, a lot of them have junior memories as their number one mulligan shot, which is interesting.

JH:  *laughing*  Yeah, there is a lot at stake when you are a junior.  Your emotions are higher.  When you get to be our age, there is so much behind us.  There is perspective.  When you are a teen, perspective is so, so hard.  You cannot teach it.  You need to experience life to get that.  When you are a junior, this is the biggest moment of your life up to this point in playing a provincial final.  But, you know what?  Our team stuck through that and we learned a lot.  It's one of those experiences we talk about and has made us better.  Now in losing that provincial final we had won the TC Junior Swiss Bonspiel so, in that year, we were either going to the Canadian Junior Championships or to Switzerland to curl.  So we had a back-up plan.  When we lost the junior provincial, we ended up going to Switzerland to curl so that was ok.

TT:  Oh wow.  I would say that is a pretty good consolation.  This actually leads nicely into another question I have for you on sports psychology.  We are seeing this really pick up, probably more so in the last two Olympic cycles.  Are sports psychologists something you guys have used with your team or something you believe in?

JH:  Yes, we have used two different resources.  We had a family friend, Kyle Paradis in the Toronto area.  He helped us during one our seasons.  He helped us off-ice but also came to a couple tournaments.  We kind of turned a corner when we worked with Kyle.  We had one of our more successful years up to that point in working with him.  We have also done an online course with Lisa Brown.  It was a lot of material we could work on ourselves because we had already worked with Kyle.  We had the framework and background to kind of do our own work with this other program.  We have done a lot.  It has helped us for sure.  It has helped us with perspective.  It helps you focus on where you need to make changes and how you think.   I don't think a lot of people realize when you look at a shot, what should you be thinking about and what shouldn't you be thinking about.

TT:  Totally makes sense.  So based on those experiences you have had and using them successfully, if you could give one sports psychologist quote or point you could give the grassroots curlers, what would be your one point to share with them?

JH:  Oh you should have told me you were going to ask me that, I would have brought my notes.  I actually have a cheat sheet somewhere, I carry it in my purse.  But I haven't looked at it in awhile but it is one of those things I will pull out.  You have caught me off guard here.  One of the more important things, and drawing on my experience of last year in winning provincials, is not putting the pressure on yourself to not miss, you know what I mean?

TT:  Oh yes.

JH:  When you look at the shot and say, "If I miss, this is what is going to happen.  I'm going to lose a provincial championship if I miss this shot."  Taking that pressure off yourself.  Just being in the moment is the most important thing.  Not worrying about the outcome of what your shot is going to be but being in the moment, throwing your shot and thinking, "I'm going to hit the broom, throw the right shot and throw the right weight."  Putting those things in your mind rather than the outcome of the shot.  At provincials last year, I let it all go.  I let the worry about the outcome let it all go.  I became really, really excited about finding out if I was going to make my shots or not.  I thought, "this is going to be really exciting, I can't wait to see if I make this next shot" versus "what will happen if I don't make this next shot?"  It's just a shift in your focus.  It meant the world to me.  It took the pressure off, even though there was still pressure.  Just being in the moment, shot by shot.  It was just a simple change in focus that changed everything for me.

TT:  Kind of eliminating all those what-if scenario's you almost don't really have control over.

JH:  Exactly!  Vanquishing the what-if scenario's is key.

TT:  Excellent, a very cool message as well.  Now let's talk about the Scotties this year.  How did they go for you?  Obviously not the end result you would have wanted but how did you feel this year?

JH:  Yeah, you know it was a different feel for us because we didn't have the playdowns to get into it.  We didn't have that moment where we qualified.  We didn't have that moment really all year where we won a tournament and we struggled a bit.  The last six weeks leading up to provincials we didn't have anything.  We had no competition so we had to practice.  We put together a tournament at our club at Bayview with five teams to practice.  It was really hard for us to jump into that moment where you are provincials.  To be honest, it didn't work well for our team *laughing*.  Our team will admit it.  We kind of need that prep work of playdowns.  Next year we are hopeful we will get to do all that regional playdown competition.  Obviously it was nice getting a bye to the next year's provincials but if you can get there and get there through competition, it's so much better.  But we had a great time at provincials.  I won't lie it wasn't the result we wanted but we had a great time.  The Brampton Curling Club did a great job in hosting.

TT:  Excellent.  I guess it is that double-edged sword of winning.  You get that bye into the next year but, like you were saying, you don't get that playing time leading up which can be detrimental.

JH:  Yeah and all the others teams get it.  You are right, it is a double-edged sword.

TT:  Now of course the other thing coming out of Ontario is the biggest upset we have seen at provincials, men's or women's, in Jenn Hanna winning provincials and beating Rachel Homan.  Do you feel that is really as big of an upset as people really have blown it up to be?  Jenn does have a great resume, been to a Scotties and been to a final before.

JH:  Jenn played a great, great provincial.  When we played her I just thought her team was on fire.  If there was any team out there who could beat Rachel in the final, Jenn's team certainly was the one.  She had a fantastic week.  Her team played great and not just in the final against Rachel.  She seemed to have confidence.  She just came off of three years of maternity leave and has not curled for three years competitively.  I think there really wasn't a lot of pressure and she probably wasn't putting pressure on herself.  This is that team's first year together and I think that helps them.  Of course when you get to a final against Rachel, you have to work hard.  When playing against Rachel you know you have the number one team in the world in your province and they brought it.  They played a great game.  For whatever reason it wasn't meant to happen for Rachel.  But for sure for a team like that to do what they did, yeah I would call it an upset.  We were prepared to be the one to upset her *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  I would hope you would think that way.

JH:  *laughing*  I think everyone in the field was.  It would be a huge feather in your cap.  When you are that big in the world, everyone is gunning for you.  It's hard to stay on top.  But how many losses did she have this year?  5 or 6?  I mean when you come in with that kind of record.  She already had a loss in the round robin so you are thinking she got her one loss out of the way when it didn't matter.  But, you know, love the sport and anything can happen.

TT:  Exactly and that is why we play the games.

JH:  That's right!

TT:  Now let's talk about the upcoming Scotties in Grande Prairie.  The field has been set and we know who will be there.  Based on the field, who do you think is the favorite or should be labelled as the favorite?

JH:  It is hard not to put Jenn Jones (Team Canada) as the favorite.  I think it is a wonderful field this year.  I think, personally, it is going to be a wonderful competition.  I think there is a lot of young, up and coming teams that made it through and it is going to be great to see.  I would put Chelsea Carey's team (Team Alberta) in the mix.  Marie-France (Larouche) out of Quebec should have a good chance.  And Jenn Hanna.  I think I could predict a Hanna - Jones final.

TT:  That would be quite the story line.  I think secretly everyone in the media world would like to see that happen as well.  What about a dark horse team?  A team perhaps many are not familiar with in the curling world but a team that could turn some heads?

JH:  Hmmm, let me think.  You know what?  I'll go with Krista (McCarville, Team Northern Ontario).  Krista has had a great, great year.  She is coming back from some time off from having her kids as well.  I would give Krista a good chance at making a good run as well.

TT:  I think that is a great pick.  They are also one of my teams to make some noise.  If you include their provincials, they have won their last five tournaments.

JH:  They are strong.  They are on a hot streak.  I spoke to Rick Lang at a national event in Oshawa and they are having a really great year.  I think they could be there as well.

TT:  I agree.  So your playoff final four would be...

JH:  Team Canada (Jones).  Team Alberta (Carey).  Team Ontario (Hanna).  Team Northern Ontario (McCarville).

TT:  And you are sticking with the Jones - Hanna final?

JH:  Yup, that is just what I would like to see.  I think it would be cool.

TT:  I agree.  I think it would be great to see them both go at in a final once again.

JH:  Jones is one of those teams where she will probably take a couple losses during the round robin, she won't go undefeated.  But you see it time and again with her team where she is on the cusp of being eliminated and she just sneaks into the playoffs and then runs the table in the playoffs.  She will be there at the end.  She is obviously the most experienced in the field.  I don't think anyone else in the field can touch her experience.  But sometimes, as we have seen, experience doesn't mean you are going to win everything.

TT:  *laughing*  That is very true.  And really seems to be the theme of this year's Scotties field.

JH:  *laughing*  Maybe.  Maybe all four of the teams I picked won't even be there at the end.

TT:  *laughing*  We never know.  I think it is one of those years where we are seeing many people saying they may not watch or be as into the Scotties because of the field but I think this is going to create a lot of great growth for the sport.

JH:  I do too.  It's exciting to me to see new teams.

TT:  Cool.  Well how about we do a little bit of rapid fire to get your thoughts on a few random questions.

JH:  Are they curling related?

TT:  Yup, most are curling related.  The first is not oddly enough.  Your Stanley Cup pick for the season?  Are you a hockey fan?

JH:  *laughing*  Not at all.  I have no clue.  Well I know the Leafs aren't out of it so I'll pick the Leafs.  There ya go.  They aren't out of it are they?

TT:  Well they are last place in the league right now.

JH:  But I thought there was a chance they could get a playoff spot?

TT:  For February, there is always a chance.  *laughing*

JH:  *laughing*  See I know nothing.  I don't follow hockey.

TT:  *laughing*  No worries.

JH:  Oh wow, my sister would kill me.  Her husband is a hockey player.

TT:  Oh wow.  Ok well what about your curling walk-up song?

JH:  Oh I had that picked.  It would be Sabotage by the Beastie Boys.

TT:  Very nice.

JH:  It's a perfect walk-up song.  Works totally well for our team too.

TT:  It's a great choice.  Who is your biggest rival on tour right now?

JH:  Oh..hmmm....biggest rival?  You know I am going to go with Sherry Middaugh.  We play one another a lot.  Probably almost 30 games.  Over the years I would say she is our biggest rival.

TT:  Nice.  Who has the winning record right now?

JH:  Oh, I think we have one game on her.  She may have tied it up at the provincials this year actually.  It might be tied right now.  Might be quite even.

TT:  Very cool.  Who is the loudest female curler on tour?

JH:  Oh, I am going to say Chelsea Carey.  She can scream pretty loud out there.

TT:  And now she has Amy Nixon with her so those two together....

JH:  Oh yeah, those two for sure.  *laughing*  They are very loud, louder than us by a lot.

TT:  *laughing*  Yup, they are very loud together.  If you could form an All-Star curling team, whether curlers or anyone in the world, who would you put together as a team?

JH:  Alright, I have answered this once before so I will try to remember who I said.  I'm going to go with Ellen DeGeneres.  I'm going to go with Dave Grohl.  And Jimmy Fallon.

TT:  Oh, very nice.  I assume you would be the forth player?

JH:  Oh yeah I would be the forth obviously.

TT:  *laughing*  And you would be skipping I would assume?

JH:  Of course.

TT:  Who would be your vice skip from those three?

JH:  Ummm...Jimmy.

TT:  That would be quite the mixed team.

JH:  Yup, I think I would have a lot of fun with them.

TT:  Yeah, I agree, I think you would have lots of fun.  That's awesome.  And having fun is what matters on the ice too right?

JH:  Absolutely, number 1!!

TT:  Now it is time for your #AskTheCurler question.  My previous interview was Matthew Blandford.  I have a very interesting question for you from him.  Now he said one of the things when playing with men, guys seem to be more on the smelly side of life and seem to leave, as he called it, "fart bombs" in the hack when they play.  He wanted to know if women do this as well and, if so, have you ever done it?

JH:  *laughing*  That is hilarious!  No, it does not happen in ladies.  When we play mix, we experience that phenomenom definitely.  But no I do not get it very much in the ladies at all.  Thankfully!  I would say if it does happen in the ladies, we would walk away and stand somewhere so nobody would know.

TT:  *laughing*  So it's not part of a strategy move like Matt was trying to sell me on?

JH:  Right, right...no, no.  We are probably more polite about it.

TT:  He was curious to see if women have the same problems or advantages, depending on what side of it you are on.

JH:  Yeah, no.  You probably have to strategize where you stand too.  And it is probably the same culprit every time too.

TT:  Yeah, that's what I'm hearing too.  *laughing*  And now, to be fair, it is your turn to do an #AskTheCurler.  My next interview is going to be with Nolan Thiessen.  If you could ask Nolan anything you want, any question you think would be interesting, what would you like to ask Nolan?

JH:  Oh my gosh.

TT:  This is hard right?

JH:  It really is.  Do I go with the serious question or the dropping bombs kind of question?  Ummm...this is interesting.  I do read Nolan's blog.  He is a really good writer.

TT:  Yes he is.

JH:  I almost feel like I need to ask him a serious question.  Hmmm...give me a minute.  I will come up with something.  Ok here is my question.  If you were to name each of your teammates (including yourself) after the seven dwarfs, who would they (and you) be?  You can choose from Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy, Bashful and Doc.

TT:  What an excellent question.  I love it!!  Might have to use this in a few future interviews.  Well thank you Julie for joining me and talking curling and #growthesport today.  I greatly appreciate it.

JH:  Thanks James.

TT:  All the best for the future and hopefully we can touch base again.

JH:  Sounds good.  Take care!

Great insight and wisdom on the sport from a proven champion.  Again, I want to thank Julie for taking time over a long weekend to talk with me on a variety of topics.  I hope all of you enjoyed the interview as much as I did.  Welcome to the #TwineTime family Julie....you will always be the First Lady of #TwineTime now :)

The curling coverage keeps coming this week rock heads and stoners.  Stay tuned for my 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts full preview and predictions.  Will #TwineTime and Julie Hastings have the same prediction for how the field will play out?  Or will we see a differing of opinions?  Stay tuned to find out....

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