O'Leary preparing for national curling competition in Willmar
Norma O'Leary of Silver Bay still remembers when she started to love the sport of curling. Almost by accident, she competed in the Olympic trials very early in her career. She was an alternate for her team and when a teammate fell ill, O'Leary had to step in and play. The stakes were high. The team was playing for the opportunity to participate in the biggest curling competition in the world.
"The crowd seemed like they were all yelling for our team. It was that moment that made me want to curl competitively. It was a really good feeling," O'Leary said.
O'Leary didn't make it to the Olympics, but she has found plenty of success in the curling world. Her first award was the in the 1996 United States Women's Curling Association Five Year and Under Challenge--a competition designed for curlers with less than five years of experience. After that, she just kept winning. As of 2013, she's won over 30 honors in the sport.
Fresh off of her first-place team finish at the USA Curling Senior National Championships in January, she is preparing for the Mixed National Championship, starting this weekend in Willlmar, Minn. The News-Chronicle caught up with her via cell phone in Chicago, where she was competing in the Women's Club National Championships. Her team finished second.
O'Leary got into curling because her husband was an avid curler, earning a bronze medal in World Men's Championship. Now, she's following in his footsteps.
"I loved it right away," she said.
March 16-23, O'Leary will be participating in the Mixed Nationals in her own home state. The competition in Willmar puts ten of the best teams from around the nation in competition with one another. The teams are made up of two men and two women, and are coming from all over the country to compete, including Alaska, Arizona and California.
Tournament organizer Troy Gorans, the fundraising chair for the Willmar Curling Club, said that his club is excited to take on the challenge of hosting a national curling event.
"We don't really know what to expect. It's taken quite an effort by our board," Gorans said.
The Willmar Curling Club is just nine years old and was started by Gorans, who has been an avid curler since college. While they've found their niche in Willmar, Gorans sees the Mixed Nationals as a chance for folks to learn more about the sport. For that reason, the club has made the event free for the public, thanks in large part to their major sponsor, Snap Fitness.
"For us, it's (most) valuable to get as many people out here to see it as possible," Gorans said.
O'Leary said curling is an appealing spectator sport.
"There's a lot of technique...strategy is a huge part of it and that's what makes the game more interesting...to watch," O'Leary said.
"There's just something that fascinates you and makes you want to come back and try again. You'll never see the same track twice," she said.
The first match will be Saturday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Willmar Civic Center Blue Line Arena. For more information, visit www.2013usmixednationals.com.
O'Leary's home rink is the Two Harbors Curling Club. Find out more about curling locally at www.twoharborscurling.com.