'Weird' to be U.S. champ

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

Ask Gillian Gervais if she's a Canadian or an American, and you get the strangest answer.

"I don't know," the second-year nursing student was saying from the University of Manitoba yesterday. "Canada's my home. At the same time I've spent most of my life living in the States."

We do know this: Gervais, 19, is the only aspiring med student at the U of M who can handle a curling rock as well as she handles a stethoscope.

Yesterday, she returned to classes as the U.S. junior women's champion, headed for the world championship in Italy next month.

Born in Saskatoon but living in Bismarck, N.D., Gervais won the American version of the Tournament of Hearts in her adopted hometown on the weekend.

Judging by her reaction, she won't need a plane to get to Italy.

"Oh, man!" Gervais began. "Up to this point I haven't even really believed it. It's crazy. The most exciting day of my life. Since we began curling, that's always your dream. At least for us it was. And not many people get to go to worlds."

PERMANENT RESIDENT

Even fewer get to go representing a country they're not a citizen of.

Gervais and her family moved from Saskatchewan to Bismarck when she was seven. While she's a permanent resident of the U.S., she doesn't have her dual citizenship, yet.

"Nobody knows," Gervais said, laughing a little sheepishly. "It's definitely weird for me. Obviously, I'm thrilled to do it ... (but) I don't know how other teams would react to it. I don't know what the Canadians would think about it."

Not to worry. We won't be calling her a traitor or anything. We've got Brett Hull for that.

Actually, Gervais may talk a bit like a Yank (when she says semi, it doesn't rhyme with hemi), but her work from the hack says hoser all the way.

Heck, the reason she's attending the U of M is because of the great curling up here.

OK, so the opportunity to go to med school was part of her decision. But you get the impression this education is as much about in-turns as interns.

Little wonder, when you realize curling's been part of her life from Day 1.

A year after Gervais was born, her aunt, Christine Gervais, became a two-time Saskatchewan champion.

Her parents played the game, too, and first put Gervais on the ice when she was 11.

"It was just something I fell in love with the first time I tried it, pretty much," she said.

Like a true Canuck, she plays hurt, too.

A nasty bout of mononucleosis earlier this season put Gervais in the hospital for a week and forced her to miss nearly a month of school, not to mention a slew of bonspiels with her Winnipeg foursome at the St. Vital Curling Club.

"I was probably a good three weeks in bed. I couldn't do anything, I was so weak," she said.

After getting back on her feet, she hooked up with her Bismarck cohorts -- including her sister, Sarah -- to win the state championship last month.

The four then waltzed into the U.S. junior nationals as the seventh seed and started knocking off the favourites, one by one.

"I went home over Christmas break and practised twice a day, at least ... threw close to 70 rocks a day," Gervais said. "We just played awesome all week. I curled the best I've ever curled. Everybody curled awesome the whole week."

And now she's a Canuck wearing a U.S. crown. Go figure.

Gervais could play as a junior one more year, but she has her sights set higher.

Like, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

By then, she'll know exactly what side of the border she stands on.

You see, she'll have to officially become an American to represent the U.S. at the Olympics.

We'll forgive her for that.

At least until she runs into Team Canada.


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