“She is focused during the game and has the ability to play any position on the team.”
– Liz Johnson, USA Curling Coach
College: Lake Superior College
Major: Physical Therapy Assistant
Team: USA Curling
When most students put education on hold during their college career, it’s not a good sign. Maybe they can’t handle the academic schedule and heightened responsibility. Maybe affordability is a problem. Or perhaps they’re just not cutout for the college scene. But for Jessica Schultz, an Anchorage, Alaska native currently living in Duluth, Minnesota, that wasn’t the situation at all. She was on her way to becoming a Physical Therapy Assistant at Lake Superior College, but decided to take time off last year because she was ‘cutout’ for other things as well, like competing in the Winter Olympics.
That meant moving to Bemidji (curling capital of the USA and home to both the women’s and men’s team) to train with the other girls. She put a sport she’s loved for years as top priority.
“I started curling when I was in junior high. I didn’t like it at first because it was so different from other sports and the other kids in school made fun of me.”
But Jessica’s father (president of the Anchorage Curling Club and an ardent supporter) encouraged her to keep playing and eventually she fell in love with the game. She’s been curling for nine years now, and these days, it’s hard to imagine anyone making fun of Jessica, especially with ‘Olympian’ tacked onto her name.
“I wanted to continue the sport after I got a taste of what competition was like at a national level.”
National exposure is certainly what Jessica’s achieved. To list just a few items on her lengthy curling resume, Jessica’s team won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in 2005 and eventually placed 8th at the Olympics. Before that she earned silver at the 2005 World Curling Championships, was the runner-up in the Minnesota State Women’s Championship in 2004, and made a good number of showings at the U.S. Junior National Championships and the Junior World Championships.
She was asked to join the USA Curling team in 2005. Before becoming that team’s coach this past year, Liz Johnson watched Jessica compete against her own daughter Cassie (they are now teammates on the USA team).
“I was always struck by her composure on the ice. She is focused during the game and has the ability to play any position on the team.”
With the Olympics behind her, Jessica is now back at Lake Superior College. She’s still a member of the Anchorage Curling Club and Duluth Curling Club though, and competes with the USA Curling team on a regular basis.
“Juggling schoolwork and curling is a lot of work. I put my academics aside last year to train for the Olympics, so that put me back a year. Plus being gone most weekends, including some Fridays and Mondays, makes it hard to study and keep up in classes, thus making it hard to get the grades I know I’m capable of getting if I had more study time.”
But time is at a minimum as usual, leaving Jessica less time for everything she’d like, including camping, fishing and her other hobbies. Jessica and the team traveled to Winnipeg the third week of October for a bonspiel (a competition or meet in curling at which teams from several clubs or districts compete with one another). With five wins and three losses, they qualified for the money round before losing to the team that represented Canada in the Olympics.
“They had some great games for their first time playing this season. The energy of the team never faltered, even during the day they played three games,” Liz says. “And Jessica especially needs this energy with all the sweeping that she does as second on the team.”
Next is another competition in Winnipeg the first weekend of November, followed with three more bonspiels in the United States right before the holidays.
“The women are playing down for the Women’s National Playdowns, which lead to the World Championships being held in Japan this year,” says Liz. “I feel honored to be working with a very talented and enthusiastic group of women.”
Assuming all goes as planned, Jessica will continue to juggle academics and curling, and graduate in 2008. She plans to get a job, most likely in Duluth as a Physical Therapist Assistant, but hopes to continue her education at St. Scholastica to become a Physical Therapist.
In the meantime though, Jessica hopes to finally unite her academics and curling endeavors by competing in the University games, where only college curlers are eligible. (The rest of her USA team will be cheering from the sidelines, as she’s the only student player.) If she wins, she’ll represent Minnesotans—and all U.S. student athletes—at the World University Games held in Italy.