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Tabitha Peterson, Joe Polo, Other U.S. Curlers Work On Mental Game In Life Without World Championships

By Stuart Lieberman | March 21, 2020, 4:18 p.m. (ET)

Tabitha Peterson (L) and Aileen Geving sweep the ice against Japan in women's curling at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 14, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.


Winning a U.S. title in curling often earns one the honor of representing Team USA in that year’s world championships. For Olympian Tabitha Peterson, that meant two chances for a world title in 2020 — first in women’s curling, and then in mixed doubles.

Instead of leading her team at the World Women’s Curling Championship this week in Prince George, British Columbia, however, she is home in Minnesota. The event was one of many cancelled due to the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), along with the World Men’s Curling Championship, set to start March 28 in Glasgow, Scotland, and the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship, which were scheduled for next month in Kelowna, British Columbia.

Just like that, both of her seasons came to a sudden halt.

“All of a sudden it’s the offseason,” said Peterson, the skip for a women’s team that also included fellow 2018 Olympian Aileen Geving and Becca Hamilton, as well as her sister Tara Peterson. “We would have been curling through the end of April. So now it’s more of an offseason process, working out at home and doing the training we normally do in May, June and July.”

Peterson, who helped the U.S. women’s team finish eighth at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, was serving as skip this season in place of Nina Roth, who is out on maternity leave. On Feb. 15, the St. Paul, Minnesota, native led her team past Jamie Sinclair’s rink, the three-time defending champions. Two weeks later she teamed with two-time Olympic men’s medalist Joe Polo to win the U.S. title in mixed doubles, too.

The women’s world championships would have been Peterson’s fifth, and first since 2017. She and Polo had previously competed in the mixed doubles world championships in 2016, when they won a bronze medal.

Also missing out is 2018 Olympic gold medalist John Shuster, who led his team of Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner and Chris Plys to the men’s national title. The men’s world championships would have been Shuster’s ninth.

Now none will add to their medal haul this season, though.

All of their competitions for the remainder of the season have been cancelled or postponed, and their local curling clubs have closed, leaving them only to dryland training.

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Polo, of Duluth, Minnesota, is a six-time U.S. men’s champion and a two-time Olympian, having won a historic bronze medal in 2006 (Team USA’s first medal in the sport) and a gold medal in 2018 (the country’s first gold). This was his second U.S. title in mixed doubles, following the one he won with Peterson in 2016.

Yet this is a new twist in his training that he — nor any athlete — has ever experienced.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Polo said. “I was really looking forward to it and it was in one of the most gorgeous places in the world.”

While his wife his home remotely teaching her students, Polo is still working at his office as a construction project manager, while also finding new ways to stay fit both mentally and physically.

And that doesn’t necessarily entail Swiffering in front of a Roomba, like the social media post that went viral earlier this week.

“Being at home is actually a really good opportunity to work on your mental game,” Polo said. “Maybe to find a good book to read about the mental game, get a phone call in with a sports psychologist, and try to work on some visualization.”

Polo recommends the books “Mind Gym” by Gary Mack and “Grit” by Angela Duckworth for athletes of any age looking to improve their mental game while home.

Peterson, like Polo, is running outdoors more and has a bike and weights at home to train. Her coaches are bringing things back into perspective for her during “this weird period in time,” she said. Her athletic trainer is tailoring workouts to her home equipment, and her sports psychologist has provided extra resources to help her practice visualization.

So what exactly does visualization entail?

“Picturing yourself in your curling delivery. Picturing yourself sweeping. Picturing yourself making that high-pressure shot and break it down into real time,” Peterson said.

Peterson is also keeping very busy with her job as a pharmacist in the Twin Cities, which now seems more important than ever.

“It’s long days and shifts, but especially now,” Peterson said. “It’s absolutely nuts, but it’s always nuts. We’re always so busy. I hardly have time to sit down and take a sip of water or eat. We’re really focusing on delivering people’s medications, so they don’t have to come into the pharmacy.”

Both Polo and Peterson are hoping to peak on the ice in February 2021 at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Mixed Doubles Curling and again in November 2021 at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling, and then in February 2022 at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.

Heading into the next trials, they anticipate there to be a lot more excitement this time around, with curling clubs having “popped up everywhere” and participant numbers growing ever since the U.S. men’s team won Olympic gold in 2018.

“Ten years ago when I told people I was a curler, they’d look at me and say, ‘What’s that?’ Peterson said. “But now when I say that people say, ‘Wow, oh my gosh!’”

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the 2012 and 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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