Transition has 'taken this long'

CON GRIWKOWSKY -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

It's much harder to replace the magic than the person. The surviving members of the only Canadian curling team to ever bring home an Olympic gold medal know that truth all too well.

Shocking as it seems, it'll be five years in March since Canadian curling icon Sandra Schmirler lost her battle with cancer.

The love affair between the Regina team and curling fans blossomed in late 1997 at Brandon. That's when Schmirler made her improbable late-end raise that raised the roof and helped send the team to the Nagano Olympics.

Team second Joan McCusker felt the love and it's something that helps keep her going today.

"The transition's been tough,'' said McCusker. "Sports psychologists did give us lots of heads-up.

"I remember when we reformed after Sandra died, they talked about how it didn't matter that it was only one person we were replacing, we were still rebuilding a team and we had to give ourselves time.''

The early days were tough without Schmirler there to clean up the messes. There was a period of denial followed by a period of frustration.

"We didn't want to hear that,'' said McCusker. "We didn't want to hear it and we couldn't adjust fully until we experienced the truth in that statement. You have to start enough all over again. I didn't believe it. It takes time.

"I'm telling you it's taken this long.''

A fourth-place finish at the Scotts in 2003. A loss to Sherry Anderson at last year's provincials.

"We've been knocking on that damned door so long,'' said McCusker. "I don't think I've ever worked this hard as I have to get back in the last four years. It has taken that long to get comfortable with the new teams, the new roles and the evolution.''

Jan Betker took over the skip role and Sherry Linton has stepped in at Betker's third spot on a team that retains lead Marcia Gudereit.

"I'm really proud of us for hangin' in there because it's been really hard,'' said McCusker. "The game owes us nothing, so you really have to take a look at why you're here.

"It has to be intrinsic. It has to be because you like being around the people because you love the competition and these are your friends, above all. You still have to get back to, 'I want to be here,' and not 'I have to be here.' "

And, with a 2-0 start here, the moment of magic appears to be much closer.


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