Erika Brown remembers very little about her first Olympics. After all, it was 25 years ago – and she was only 15.
”I remember the opening ceremony, marching, bits and pieces of the competition,” Brown said of her time at the 1988 Calgary Games, ”but not a heck of a lot, actually.”
Now 40, Brown has earned the chance to relive the Olympic experience.
On Saturday, she was skip of the rink that swept the playoffs in the U.S. curling trials in Fargo, N.D., to claim a place at the Sochi Olympics in Russia.
”Twenty-five years later is bit hard to swallow,” Brown told The Associated Press in a phone interview. ”I can barely believe I have been alive that long.”
Brown, who also represented her country at 1998 Nagano Games, said this will be her last Olympics. But for a fierce competitor with curling in her blood, somehow it’s hard to believe her.
Her parents, Steve and Diane, both curled for the U.S. and own a big curling store in Madison, Wis. Steve, who coached Erika at the 1988 and 1998 Games, will coach the U.S. wheelchair team in Sochi.
Even Erika’s younger brother, Craig, is into curling and competed at the men’s trials in Fargo.
”It’s been a family thing since we were little kids,” Erika said. ”My mum wasn’t sure what to do after I was born, so she took me to watch my dad curl when I was 7 days old. I’d probably had only two trips to the doctor by then.”
Brown has managed to maintain her motivation and desire to practice curling despite having a day job as a physician’s assistant in Ontario, where her patients range from newborns to 90-year-olds, and being a mother of two.
If she wraps up her morning appointments, she tries to squeeze in about 30 minutes of curling during her lunch hour at a curling club a short distance from work. That will change in the run-up to Sochi.
”I am going to be taking a leave of absence from work, probably in January,” Brown said. ”That should allow me to have more relaxed practices, where I can be a little more deliberate and take my time.”
Brown certainly didn’t appear underprepared in Fargo last week, clinching victory over Allison Pottinger’s team at the Scheels Arena with a draw into the four-foot with the final stone of the game.
Her teammates – Debbie McCormick, Jessica Schultz and Ann Swisshelm – are all former Olympians and Brown’s rink should contend for a medal in Sochi.
”We just found a great combination with this team about three years ago when we got together. Our goal was to make it back to the Olympics and we have,” Brown said.
”I think anyone who has been to the Olympics once has some pretty built-in motivation to go back. It’s such a privileged experience to be part of Team USA, wearing your nation on your back. That experience alone has been a pretty big motivator for the past 25 years.”
When Brown took time away from school to compete in Calgary, curling was only a demonstration sport. It was again in 1992 before returning to the Olympic program in Nagano.
The U.S. rink didn’t get past the round-robin stage then, and an Olympic medal remains the thing missing from Brown’s resume that includes world and national titles.
”Olympic gold?” Brown said. ”That would be a pretty sweet one of sew it all up with.”