The best thing about the recent Thanksgiving holiday for the members of Team Erika Brown was it meant there was a sliver of time to sit back and relax.
That doesn’t happen all that often.
And it’s not going to happen much in the next two months as Erika Brown, Debbie McCormick, Jessica Schultz and Ann Swisshelm prepare for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games this February in Russia.
The United States’ Olympic women’s curling team, commonly referred to as an “All-Star” team for its abundance of Olympic experience, is always on the go. But the women — who won the U.S. championship in February and placed first at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling last month in Fargo, N.D. — don’t have the luxury of devoting their entire lives to their sport. Curling can take a back seat to the athletes’ busy daily schedules, juggling full-time work, volunteering or keeping everything running smoothly with their families — or all above.
“I don’t know what life would be like if I was bored,” McCormick said. “I’m always active, busy. There’s always something to do, which is good for me.”
For Swisshelm, the Thanksgiving holiday provided a small breather, both mentally and physically.
“My husband and I actually had three pretty luxurious days over Thanksgiving at my parents’ house where we didn’t do anything,” Swisshelm said. “It was great. It was really great. That won’t happen again until way after the Olympics. It’s looking like April.”
Schultz could relate as the holiday marked her last real break before her push to prepare for the Winter Games.
“I gave myself a week off to just enjoy family and friends,” Schultz said.
Schultz, 28, is the youngest member of Team Brown and the only one who isn’t married. Of the four, Brown is the only team member with children, raising two boys, ages 6 and 7.
“Erika, gosh, I don’t know how she does it,” McCormick said. “She’s got two kids. She works full time. I mean that girl’s crazy.”
“There’s not a lot of sitting-around time,” said Brown, laughing. “That usually happens during my commute (to work) or when I’m on an airplane. Those are probably the two times I get some ‘me time.’”
|Skip Erika Brown shoots as Ann Swisshelm and Jessica Schultz
sweep in the playoffs of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Balancing a job, family, training and curling is just reality of the sport.
“It’s a challenge,” Schultz said. “But when you have a goal, you’re doing to do whatever it takes to get it and achieve it.”
“I guess it’s just a matter of keeping on schedule,” said Brown, who lives in Oakville, Ont., where she is a physician assistant at a health care facility. “I have to be to work from 9-5, so that’s pretty automatic. But I’m fortunate enough that there’s access to practice close to my work. Most days I actually try and practice for an hour at lunch time, and it works out really well, actually, because it doesn’t take away time from my family in the evenings.”
Brown, McCormick and Swisshelm quickly acknowledge a significant part of their balancing act is possible because of their supportive husbands.
“I have done this for 25 years and either been in school or been working and trying to be competitive,” Brown said. “Being busy is just part of who I am. I’ve had so much support these last several years from my husband, Ian, who understands that you need to work hard at it. It takes time and it takes time away from your family when you’re traveling, and he’s been a great helper.”
Said Swisshelm: “The family surrounding you makes most of this possible because people have to help out. With traveling, I think this calendar year, without the Olympics, it will be 120 days I’m gone.”
Since a lot of curling tournaments — better known as bonspiels — are held outside the United States, members of Team Brown log many miles through the air and are forced to miss numerous days of work.
McCormick has the perfect job for her lifestyle. The Rio, Wis., resident sells curling equipment and supplies for Goldline, which is based in Mississauga, Ont., outside of Toronto. She’s able to meet fellow curlers at bonspiels and sell the company’s products.
McCormick enjoys the flexibility of her job because it allows her to schedule work around curling activities. However, her job is commission-based, so when she’s not selling, she’s not earning a paycheck.
“It’s a bit of a struggle making ends meet sometimes,” McCormick said. “We’re making it work, but sometimes I don’t know how. But so far, we’re doing OK.”
Swisshelm has had multiple full-time careers in the past, including the vice president of marketing for the American Diabetes Association.
“I’ve had two pretty significant careers already, so my third one, actually, is completely backwards to most sports,” Swisshelm said. “I get to be a full-time athlete right now.”
Currently, Swisshelm is not working but is an avid volunteer around Chicago where she lives. Chipping in time to organizations in need of help has become Swisshelm’s passion off the ice. Along with her husband, she works with La Casa Norte, a non-profit whose mission is to serve youth and families who are confronting homelessness in Chicago.
Swisshelm is also a volunteer for organizations within her sport.
“I’ve been pretty lucky to play the role of an athlete-advocate within my sport at the national level and then just starting this year at the international level with the World Curling Federation,” Swisshelm said. “I’m on their first-ever Athletes’ Commission, which is pretty exciting.”
Schultz, who is a physical therapy assistant at Twin Cities Orthopedics in Edina, Minn., works 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Her schedule allows her to train after work.
“My work has been really understanding of my training, so leading up to the trials I was (working) four 10-hour days and I would go straight from work to the gym to practice or practice and then the gym,” Schultz said. “Since I work four days that gives me an extra day to travel for the weekends because all of our competitions are usually in Canada.”
With the Winter Games closing in, Schultz and Brown will have to take off a significant amount of time from their jobs. Both women will miss the entire month of February and a large portion of January, with a majority of that time being as an unpaid leave of absence.
“It’s a big chunk of time, but it’s definitely worth it,” Brown said. “There’s no time like the present, so we might as well do what we need to do and I want to feel like I’m best prepared as I can be for when we head over (to Sochi).”
The members of Team Brown are certainly showing that success doesn’t come without a price.
Greg Bates is a freelance writer based in Green Bay, Wis., who has covered Green Bay Packers games for a number of media outlets for the past seven seasons. He has been a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc., since 2012.