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As curling grows more popular, so do its star players

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Curling trailer
Debbie McCormick travels the United States selling curling gear out of a mobile store. She recently had to modify a sign on the back of her trailer with duct tape after she won her 4th trip to the Olympics.
Euan Kerr / MPR News

Debbie McCormick will soon be heading to Russia with the rest of her curling team to represent the United States in the Winter Olympics. 

Like many Olympians, the resident of Madison, Wis., is a passionate advocate for her sport, but she's perhaps more hands-on than many. Her job entails traveling the country as a representative of Goldline, a curling equipment manufacturer. She drives a pickup pulling a huge trailer filled with gear from curling club to curling club, setting up a mobile shop wherever she goes. She recently spent a few days at the St. Paul Curling Club.

"Let's start with shoes," she says, leading an impromptu tour of her wares. There are mountains of curling shoes: Each pair has one sticky rubber sole and one slider sole, usually of Teflon. There are also forests of curling brooms. Then there are the pants, jackets and gloves. 

Debbie McCormick
Debbie McCormick, a former curling world champion and four-time Olympian, at the St. Paul Curling Club.
Euan Kerr / MPR News

She sells stopwatches, broom bags, ornaments, notepads, jewelry. The selection makes you realize that the business of curling is complex. 

"It's good it's complicated," McCormick said with a laugh. "I've more stuff to sell now."

Yet when it comes to Olympic curling, McCormick's deadly serious. The four-time Olympian can throw a 42-pound rock the length of a curling rink and have it stop exactly where it needs to be, time after time. 

She is the vice skip (or vice captain) on the rink (or team) of Erika Brown, who is going to her third Olympics. Both have played on the international level for over 20 years. McCormick, who won the world championship in 2003, said they know they are in for a tough competition.

When she first started playing internationally, she said, the U.S. teams were able to predict who they could beat easily. Now the curling world has changed, and anyone who makes it to the Olympics will put up a good game.

"Canada is always up there," she said. "And Scotland. Eve Muirhead, who is the reigning world champion, has had another great season. And even Russia — Russia is a great team. And Sweden, they just won the Europeans."

Curling has become a beneficiary of what some people call "the Olympic effect." Every four years viewers get a heavy dose of the game on TV, and that leads to a lot of people wanting to try the game. McCormick said curling is growing everywhere. Her sales trips now take her through the South to Georgia,  South Carolina, Texas and Southern California. 

McCormick is busy with her tours of the nation's curling clubs, but she and her teammates make sure they practice regularly. Usually she practices on her own, but the team meets regularly over weekends to either practice, or play in competitions.  

And this leads to one of the more extraordinary things about Debbie McCormick. As she travels around the country she is regularly asked to play on local teams. It's a bit like playing in a local rec center basketball league, and being able to ask LeBron James to join in.  

But to McCormick it just seems natural. Curling is a social game, and she now has so many friends around the curling world, she's always delighted to play. That being said, when she gets to Russia, she has been quoted as saying, Team USA is going to kick some butt.