Local curlers take passion for sport to 2018 Winter Olympics
FARGO — When 35-year-old curler Amelia Young from Fargo traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, to help record stats during the 2017 Olympic curling trials last November, she didn't think it would result in a trip to Pyeongchang, South Korea. But the vibrant, regional curling community wouldn't leave any stone unturned so three curlers from the Fargo area could join them at the frozen festivities more than 5,000 miles away.
"Many of the individuals who were helping at the trials were planning on going to the 2018 Winter Olympics. They were talking about it and I kind of got a little bit sad that I wasn't going," Young says.
When she returned home, she asked her husband, "What do you think about me going to South Korea for the Olympics?"
The former competitive curler — Kyle Young, 34 — remembers his quick reply. "You're not going without me!"
Although this trip may have been an impulsive decision, their love of curling has remained steady since they were children.
"I grew up in Canada where my mom curled competitively, so I was always around the sport and played in youth leagues," Amelia says. "In high school, I became so busy that I didn't really get back into the sport until I moved to Fargo for college."
Unlike Amelia, Kyle joined a youth curling team because his friends pushed him to try it when he was in the sixth grade
"I signed up with them in their youth league in Devils Lake, North Dakota," he says. "And I've just been playing ever since."
Then, shortly before the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Amelia joined the Fargo-Moorhead Curling Club.
"Ironically, without curling, (Kyle and I) wouldn't have met," she says.
Both Amelia and Kyle joined the club that year.
"I really fell back in love with the sport that year," she says. "It's now been 15-plus years later and I still love it and have met so many wonderful people who play it."
Fargo to Pyeongchang
Amelia admits most people have been planning their trip to the Winter Games for many months or even years, but when John Shuster — her friend Sara's husband — led his rink to victory during the Team USA's curling trials, she felt compelled to make the trip.
Originally from Chisholm, Minnesota, and a current member of the Duluth Curling Club, John Shuster returns to the Olympic stage for the fourth time. (He played in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Games.) In fact, John Shuster is the first curler on the U.S. men's team to make it to his fourth Olympics.
Shuster will lead the U.S. Men's Curling Team in the "skip" position. The skip is synonymous with "captain" of the team and determines strategy, using their teammates' strengths in order to win the game.
"When we decided to go, I then reached out to the Shuster family, and they were able to give us recommendations," Amelia says. "Sara Shuster has quite a bit of experience going to these things."
Amelia says that's also when she mentioned it to the couple's friend, Troy Davis, of Fargo.
"It's on my bucket list so I wasn't going to miss it," Davis says. "I love the Olympics. I love the entire aspect of the competition — the country against country yet all trying to achieve their goals."
Unlike the curling couple, Davis describes himself as a casual curler who grew to love the sport after he was encouraged and tried the local curling club triathlon (a competition that included bowling, darts and curling) event before the club was remodeled.
"It's just a good social, team sport," Davis says.
Amelia says that because of the curling's regional affinity she has been able to grow close to the families of some of the regional Olympic players. Kyle even went to school with Team USA's team alternate, Joe Polo. Fargo's own curling club (located at 4300 23rd Ave. S.) has hosted numerous national trials. Because she works remotely as an associate manager for medical writing out of Boston, Amelia is able to travel and volunteer at curling matches.
"Sara was really able to provide great insight and help with planning for the trip," she says.
The Schuster family helped local curlers find accommodations and even included them in ticket requests for the men's curling draws.
On Feb. 16, the Youngs and Davis will depart and travel for 19 hours before reaching their destination. Amelia says they'll primarily be attending the men's curling draws but also hope to get tickets to hockey and speed skating as well.
When asked about medal predictions, Amelia doesn't hesitate.
"Team USA men's curling for gold," she says. "Well, hopefully, but they will definitely be on the medal stand."
'A winter gentleman sport'
Sometimes to referred to as "gentleman sport," curling does more than just challenge a person's athletic ability.
"The history I've read on curling is that it came from Scotland, and people in Scotland would only play a game if it engaged you physically, mentally and socially," Kyle says. "The only two things that I know of that does all of that is golf and curling."
Curling takes its name from the way stones glide in a curling motion across the ice. The game is played with two teams of four people. Each team takes turns throwing a 44-pound stone across ice, aiming at a 12-foot target more than 150 feet away. In eight shots, each team tries to get their stones the closest to the center while blocking the other team's stones. The team with the stones closest to the center after six to 10 rounds wins.
Amelia says curling's strategy and sportsmanship stand apart from all other winter games.
"You always start and end the game with handshakes," Amelia says. "Opponents also cheer for each other if they make a good shot, and rarely do you see the fans reacting to a bad shot."
Amelia says curling fans usually just cheer for their team's success and not their opponent's misfortune.
"Every curling game is different. The strategy is different and the players have to adjust," she says. "It's very challenging, unlike some other sports where you go out and do the same thing over and over again. In curling, every shot could be different."
2018 Winter Olympics
What: Men's and women's team curling
When: Feb. 14-25
Where: Gangneung (South Korea) Curling Centre
Info: Spectators can watch the competition on NBC Sports Network, CNBC and USA channels.