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Still Sweeping, Curling Pioneer Erika Brown Leads Experienced U.S. Women Into Worlds

By Scott McDonald | March 17, 2016, 3:13 p.m. (ET)

Erika Brown competes in the women's curling round-robin match against the Republic of Korea at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at the Ice Cube Curling Center on Feb. 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Erika Brown works as a physician assistant in Ontario. One day on the job, Brown told a patient she was a curler for the United States. Then, as she’s repetitively done so much of her life, Brown began explaining the sport.

“They just looked at me and said they know what it is,” Brown said. “Sometimes I forget that people here have been around the sport their entire life.”

Curling has long been a popular sport in Canada, and thanks to pioneers such as Brown the sport has gained more and more recognition in the United States — even in the South, where Southerners watch with curiosity during winter Olympic years.

“I’m thrilled we have more exposure. It’s refreshing for us,” said Brown, a member of the 1998 and 2014 U.S. Olympic Curling Teams. “We can be traveling, even in the South, and mention curling and people know what we’re talking about. People will say they saw us on TV and that they remembered us.”

Brown, who also was on the U.S. team when curling was a demonstration event at the 1988 Winter Games, has helped take the sport to its new heights, and now she’s the skip on the U.S. championship squad that begins the World Women’s Curling Championship this week in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

Brown started curling at age 7 when she didn’t weigh much more than the 42-pound stone that’s pushed down the ice. Early on she practiced her delivery by popping the top open on a box of Kleenex so she could grip it and then sliding it down the ice, since the stone was too heavy for her to handle.

Coming from what’s been nicknamed the “First Family of U.S. Curling,” the sport has always been part of Brown’s life. Her parents are accomplished curlers. Her brother was a champion curler (Craig Brown was on the 2014 U.S. Olympic men’s team). She’s also married to former Canadian curling champion Ian Tetley, and they reside in Oakville, Ontario.

The two-time Olympian didn’t focus solely on curling in high school, though. She became a multi-sport athlete, even winning the state championship in golf her junior and senior years. She played golf at the University of Wisconsin, winning a couple of Big Ten team titles along the way.

All the while, Brown stuck with curling, as it gives northerners something to do in the winter.

“It’s too cold to play golf in the winter, so curling is what I did then,” Brown said. “Golf and curling are so much alike. You need good technique, a strong core and strong legs.”

Brown has reassembled a group of curling veterans to comprise Team Brown, which won the U.S. championship in February in, of all places, Jacksonville, Florida. The group of Allison Pottinger, Nicole Joraanstad and Natalie Nicholson will aim to bring home gold at this week’s World Women’s Curling Championship.

“It’s good to be back with them,” Brown said. “We used to be teammates, then we were competitors.”

Brown leads the team, which includes marking the spot where the shooter needs to aim and yelling instructions to the sweepers during the toss. She said it gets loud in arenas with the noise of the crowd, teammates yelling, other games simultaneously happening and the roar of the stone hurling over the ice.

Brown received her master’s degree from Finch University of Health Sciences in Chicago. Canada’s first civilian physician assistant education program began in 2008, following a U.S. model developed in the 1960s. In other words, she’s blazing a trail in her career as well.

She said she’ll continue curling as long as she can, and that she hopes to see her sport continually grow and eventually expand its reach to the South.

“If anybody is interested in the sport, I hope they do it out of their own interest and not because their parents did it or made them go,” said Brown, whose children play hockey and only dabble in curling. “I would encourage someone to find the nearest facility and learn about it. Talk to curlers, because curlers love curling and they love talking about curling. It’s such a great game and you can develop friendships. I’ve developed lifelong friendships.”

Brown probably needs a trophy case as big as Canada to display all of her U.S. accomplishments, including a slew of national championships, junior national championships, USA Curling Female Athlete of the Year awards (2013, 2004, 1994, 1989) and USA Curling Team of the Year awards (2013, 2004, 1999), just to name a few.

As the trek to the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea begins, Brown said she’ll continue to promote the sport and pursue Olympic gold.

“I’ll play as long as I can depending on my position and fitness level,” the 43-year-old said. “Experience goes a long way in our sport.”

And if anyone is well steeped in experience and knowledge, then certainly it would be one of the main faces of curling’s first family.

Scott McDonald is a Houston-based freelance writer who has 17 years experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.