Olympic curler returns to her roots in Anchorage

bbragg@adn.comDecember 22, 2013 

Last week, Jessica Schultz was in Scotland, which according to legend is where the sport of curling was born during medieval days. In February, she'll be in Russia, where she will compete in her second Winter Olympics.

But this week, Schultz is back home in Anchorage, celebrating the holidays with her family, catching her breath before heading to Sochi and doing what America's elite curlers do when they aren't playing -- preaching the gospel of their sport.

Schultz spent a snowy Sunday afternoon at the Anchorage Curling Club, giving lessons, signing autographs and spreading the word about curling, which even in a winter city like Anchorage remains a fringe sport.

"It's nice to come back to the roots, especially before a huge event like the Olympics," Schultz said. "I can touch base with where I came from.

"It helps calm me. Later this week, Dad and I will go throw rocks like we used to."

A steady flow of would-be curlers made their way to the Government Hill club on Sunday, some hoping to meet Schultz, some curious to see what the sport is all about.

Outside the rink hung a new banner proclaiming the Anchorage Curling Club as the home of a two-time Olympian. Inside was the Olympian herself.

"It's incredible," club secretary Barbara Harmon. "She just got back from a competition in Scotland and here she is, giving up her very first free weekend because she loves the club and she loves the sport."

Schultz, who turns 29 next week, heads to the Olympics as a member of the world's seventh-ranked women's team. A veteran of the U.S. team that placed last in the 12-team field at the 2006 Winter Olympics, Schultz said she expects to be more of a competitor than a participant this time.

"The first time we weren't expecting to win. We were the underdog. I went for the experience," she said. "This time, I'm going to compete. We can medal if everything goes right."

Schultz didn't show off her skills much Sunday. Mostly she offered tips to first-time curlers, some of whom tumbled to the ice while throwing the rock or even while walking on the ice. No need to feel abashed, Schultz said -- she took her share of spills when learning to curl and still falls on the ice occasionally.

Sometimes dismissed as a non-sport, curling rewards balance and flexibility more than strength and speed. Core fitness is a must, and elite curlers like Schultz do interval training to aid the bursts of speed needed to sweep.

It's a lifetime sport you can pick up at almost any age. Sunday's event drew quite a few kids, especially girls, but there were a number of adults too.

"The beauty of the sport is that anyone can do it," Schultz said.

Among those giving the sport a try -- and generally staying on her feet -- was 56-year-old Kristin Muir, who came to the club with her 23-year-old son Kevin.

"My son's home visiting for Christmas and I thought it would be something different to try," Muir said. "Worse-case, it'll kill a couple hours. As it turned out, it was a lot of fun and I may end up joining a league."

Plus, she'll have a heightened interest in curling when the Olympics roll around.

"I can tell my sister I curled with an Olympic athlete," Muir said. "They don't need to know I was falling on my face."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.


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