|The 2006 United States curling team of Pete Fenson, Shawn
Rojeski, Joe Polo, John Shuster and Scott Baird received the
bronze medal at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
The saying “the family that plays together, stays together” couldn’t be any truer when it comes to the Fenson clan.
2006 Olympic bronze medalist curler Pete Fenson grew up in a curling family in sport-mad Minnesota, a hotbed for curling in the U.S. His father, Bob, won the 1979 USA Curling National Championships and was Pete’s coach when he took up the sport at the young age of 13. “He still makes it to our games on occasion — if it’s close enough to drive,” he said. “But he doesn’t do any coaching anymore.”
Now it’s Pete’s turn to dabble as an occasional coach, offering advice and guidance to his oldest son Alex’s curling team, when time permits. When his season came to an end in February he joined his 16-year-old sweeper son as their team headed to the World Junior Championships in Sochi, Russia, in early March. Alex’s team — one of the two youngest out of the 10 teams — finished in seventh place.
That is a finish that is familiar to his father, whose own team recently came in sixth at the U.S. nationals in Green Bay, Wis. “Sometimes it’s a kick upside the head — a reminder on how intense your preparation has to be so you’re ready,” said the team skip. “Going into the Olympic Trials next year, it’s definitely going to help us with our focus.” But Fenson has more than one focus — something very few people know. His second is a pizza restaurant he owns and operates in Bemidji, Minn.
Seventeen years ago, the newly married curler moved back to his hometown so that he could pursue a competitive curling career, something that would be easier if he was closer in distance to his family. “My wife and I were trying to figure out what we were going to do for a living when a friend of mine told me that the man who owned Dave’s Pizza, a longstanding pizza restaurant near us — and my favorite spot as a kid — was ready to retire. When it went up for sale we had the opportunity to purchase it.”
But with his competitive curling career now at full speed, it left little time to run a local restaurant. Thankfully, a family that plays together also flips pizzas together. “I’m very lucky to have the support of my family, my wife, and my two sons who keep things going during my absences. Because otherwise I couldn’t compete.”
“But I actually like it when I’m here in the offseason because I can be at the restaurant with my family and tend to it.”
Somehow Fenson manages to juggle it all, something he says he learned from his involvement in competitive sport. With a demanding lifestyle in international competition he says, “you learn how to multitask. But all aspects in my life have helped me with the other aspects. Learning how to manage my restaurant helps me with managing my team and managing my schedule. One helps the other.”
Just like winning a bronze medal in the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy — the first and only Olympic medal ever won by the U.S. in curling — which in turn helped his pizza business. “After the Torino Games, there was a bit of an onslaught of interest in the restaurant and new customers. But it was fun. We sold t-shirts and signed pizza boxes. It was kind of a crazy thing for us being from such a small town,” he said.
|Pete Fenson shouts instructions during the bronze-medal match
of the men's curling between United States and Great Britain
at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
The significance of competing at the Olympics is not something Fenson takes lightly. He recognizes the importance of not only attaining that level of play, but also serving as an ambassador for his country. “It was a special honor and privilege that we were able to represent our country at the Olympics,” Fenson explained. “And the fact that we played well and ended up with the medal. I feel fortunate because it’s a team game, and my team has always been a solid unit — both on and off the ice. That’s what makes it enjoyable for me to keep playing.”
The 45-year-old admits he still has game left in him thanks to a sport that allows for a longer than normal playing career. “I am young enough to continue playing a little while longer if I want to.” And the thing that he wants more than anything is to “go back and try to upgrade our medal at the Olympics. That’s really the number one goal — to keep improving our results.”
Although having already qualified for the upcoming U.S. Olympic Team Trials: Curling — which will be held in November in Fargo, N.D. — he knows he has a lot of work to do before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Russia next February. “As a team we’re always trying to sharpen up the edges of our game. It would be a terrific honor to once again go back and compete as Team USA. So that’s what we’re working for.”
And afterwards? He admits he hasn’t given much thought to the day when it comes time for him to hang up his broom. “I don’t know what’s going to happen after next year.” The one thing this family man does know is that “the pizza shop will always be there.”
And since history has a way of repeating itself, we’re pretty sure his entire family will be right by his side. Just like they were when he won the medal — “right there in the front row cheering me on.”