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Go For The Gold: Erika Brown

Go For The Gold

BY SCOTTIE BIBB I JUNE 18, 2013

Erika Brown poses for a portrait during the USOC photo shoot
in West Hollywood, Calif.

The sport of curling is in Erika Brown’s blood.

A seven-time U.S. curling champion, Brown is a member of what has been dubbed the “First Family of Curling."

Her father, a three-time U.S. men’s curling champion and two-time mixed national champion (with Erika’s mom, Diane), is also a two-time Olympic coach. He’s currently the coach for the U.S. Paralympic wheelchair curling team, which recently qualified for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

He has been inducted into both the U.S. Curling Hall of Fame (Class of 1998), and the Madison (Wis.) Sports Hall of Fame (Class of 2012).

Her father started Steve’s Curling Supplies, in their hometown of Madison, and sold curling supplies out of a shop in their family home. Nearly 40 years later, the shop is the No. 1 supplier of curling equipment in the United States.

Erika’s brother, Craig, is a two-time U.S. champion, skip of his own squad and now runs the family’s curling business.

Between the four family members, they have won 26 national curling championships.

“First Family of Curling,” indeed.

As a child, Erika and her family spent the majority of their time at the curling rink.

“I started going to the curling rink as such a young girl,” Brown said. “It’s a natural and comforting thing because it’s what we’ve always done."

She began curling before the age of 7. At 15, she participated in the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games, where curling was a demonstration sport. She went on to compete at the Winter Games a decade later in Nagano, Japan, where the team finished fifth.

“(The sport of curling) was definitely all-encompassing while growing up in our household,” Brown said. “Our family vacations were always centered around curling. We didn’t go to the beach like most other families. We went to North Dakota."

It seems the family that curls together, stays together.

“We spent so much time together as a family,” Brown said. “My parents, my brother and I were all always competing throughout the years. It’s pretty much at the forefront of most of our conversations. It’s what we talked about at the dinner table."

Brown kept curling in her family. She is married to three-time world curling champion Ian Tetley, whom she met at an Ontario bonspiel (a curling tournament). The couple has two sons, Nathan and Cole, and resides in Oakville, Ont.

Their boys haven’t started curling yet, she said. They seem to be drawn to (gasp!) hockey.

“They’ve both tried it (curling) a bit and have been on the ice with us,” Brown said. “I guess hockey is just part of living and growing up in Canada."

“They’ve spent much more time in a hockey rink than a curling rink so far,” she added with a laugh, “but if I have my way, that will change."

In addition to being a mom, Brown has also worked full time as a physician assistant (P.A.) for the past 15 years.

Curling, however, had a hand in her choice of career off-ice as well.

“I was always interested in healthcare and direct patient care,” Brown said. “Becoming a P.A. seemed like a really great fit in terms of schooling and education. I didn’t want the long-term commitment of medical school, which I think really would have put a kibosh on any future curling career. For me, this career has been really great and offered me the flexibility to continue to curl competitively."

Erika Brown gives teammates instructions at the Titlis Glacier
Mountain World Championships at the Volvo Sports Centre on
March 21, 2013 in Riga, Latvia.

When it comes to balancing her sport, career and family, Brown said she’s presented with the same set of challenges any other working mom would face.

“Curling is a lot different than most other sports,” she said. “Most curlers have full-time jobs and families. Our average age is a lot older than athletes in a lot of the other sports, so I think our time is spread a bit thinner. But I’ve always found a way to manage it all, somehow."

Currently, the focus of Brown’s attention is qualifying for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

She is the skip of Team Brown, which features three-time Olympian and eight-time national champion Debbie McCormick, 2002 Olympian and five-time national champion Ann Swisshelm, and 2006 Olympian and three-time national champion Jessica Schultz.

Together, they form what only can be called an “all-star team” for women’s curling.

Brown believes that their combined experience and competitive history is a definite advantage and sees strengths in each of her teammates.

“Debbie and I have played together dating back to when we were both in middle school and competing in junior tournaments, so we’ve known each other for most of our lives,” Brown said. “Our families both come from Madison, and we’ve spent a significant portion of our lives together."

“Ann is one of the best players I’ve ever met,” she added. “She’s very intense and works really hard to bring out the best in each of us. She’s always pushing us to be a better team."

As for what Brown called the “baby of the group,” Schultz brings her own set of talents.

“I guess she just feels like a baby to the rest of us, even though she’s in her 20s,” Brown said with a laugh. “She’s so much fun and full of enthusiasm. She’s so strong and fit, and really inspires the rest of us to take it to that same level. She’s really a great addition to our team."

Their families are also close and prove to be Team Brown’s biggest fans.

“Debbie’s dad is a great curler himself and both of our dads traveled together to watch us at the World Championships in Latvia,” Brown said of McCormick’s father, Wally Henry, who coached the U.S. Olympic women’s team in Vancouver in 2010. “They gave us a lot of support — along with a lot of coaching advice — which was really great."

By finishing fourth at the 2013 World Championships — the highest placement of any U.S. women's team since Team McCormick earned silver in 2006 — Team Brown earned the United States a spot in the 2014 Winter Games. And by taking home gold from the 2013 U.S. championships, Team Brown guaranteed a chance to compete for that spot at the upcoming 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in November in Fargo, N.D.

Brown has been pleased with the progress of the team from last season and sees great things in their future.

“We didn’t have a great 2011-12 season, and we were a little bit disappointed,” Brown said. “But this season has been one of the best any of us have ever had on any team in terms of overall success on the World Curling Tour."

“We won three different bonspiels and have placed really well internationally,” she added. “Our season has been really strong and doing really well at the World Championships really capped it off nicely for us."

Erika Brown poses during the USOC photo shoot in
West Hollywood, Calif., in April 2013.

The team was named USA Curling’s 2013 “Team of the Year,” and Brown was named USA Curling’s 2013 “Athlete of the Year.” This is the fourth time that Brown has earned the women’s MVP award, which she won previously in 1988, 1994 and 2004.

“(Winning the award) was great, because we had all said, amongst ourselves, ‘Wow that’s really pretty much the best year any of us have ever had,’” Brown said. “So it was really nice to be recognized."

For now, Brown is concentrating on representing the United States in Sochi.

“Being at the Olympics is just a completely different level of team,” she said. “To play for your country and play for your flag really requires a different level of intensity and pride."

Brown said that a determined core group of female curlers have put in a lot of work over the course of the past few decades in an effort to bring the sport of curling to the forefront.

“We’ve done a ton of traveling, participated in a lot of competitions and made a huge commitment to the sport,” Brown said. “I think we’ve all made each other better and this is an opportunity for our team, or really any team that gets that spot at the Trials, to prove that U.S. curling is right up there on the world stage."

Her goal, she said, is a pretty simple one: to be the first U.S. women’s curling team to bring home an Olympic medal.

“A medal is our goal,” Brown said, “preferably the gold one."

The team has made every effort to put itself in a position to do just that.

“We’ve tried to plan our season very carefully,” Brown said. “We were really close at the World Championships to winning that bronze medal. I think we’re trying to make all the right adjustments so we can be in a gold-medal game this year."

Brown said she’s not sure how long she’ll continue to curl competitively.

“Our team has such a fun, great chemistry,” she said. “To go the Olympics with this team would be a really great way to cap off a long career."

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Scottie Bibb is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.