When the Winter Olympics kick off in South Korea later this week, the U.S. curling team will have lots of fans in our region. Everyone on this year's team hails from either Minnesota or Wisconsin.
It'll be the first Olympics for Duluth native Aileen Geving. She grew up curling at the Duluth Curling Club, and still plays in a league there. But she also holds down a grueling competition schedule.
"We have probably three or four weekends a month we are on the road training or competing," she says. "And most of our tournaments, we leave on a Thursday and maybe don't come back until a Monday."
Like her teammates, though, Geving squeezes that training in alongside a day job. She works full time in insurance, and says she often brings her work laptop along to curling tournaments.
"My team will finish a game and we'll go out to eat, and we go back to the hotel to rest between games and I'm on my computer getting some work done before we have to go back and play again," she says.
But Geving's work laptop isn't coming with her to the Olympics. She'll be focused on the game, where her job is to slide her team's third and fourth curling rocks down the icy rink. When she's not doing that, she uses a special broom to sweep the ice in front of the rocks her teammates throw.
"There's actually little what they call pebbles on the ice, little water droplets, and they create friction when the rock is moving," she explains. "So when you're sweeping, you're trying to go as fast and as hard as you can, so that those little pebbles melt down and almost slicken the ice or create a gliding surface so that the rock will either go farther or straighter."
The game looks a lot like shuffleboard, but Geving says that curling has all the strategy of "chess on ice." And even at the Olympics, the competition will be fierce, but friendly.
"We've played against all the teams at the Olympics, and we travel to different tournaments together," she says. "So there's definitely a camaraderie there.
"I think on the ice you won't see it, but off the ice you would. And you know, we all know each other by name and we've spent enough time around each other to have an appreciation for all the training that everybody does."
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