HALIFAX -- Back in 2003, Saskatchewan's Jan Betker qualified for her first Scott Tournament of Hearts without her long-time skip and friend, Sandra Schmirler.
But Betker readily admitted that Schmirler's death was still too much for both her and the front end of Joan McCusker and Marcia Gudereit then.
"There was a lot of pressure, I felt," said Betker, who moved up from third to replace the late skip. "Enough water has passed under the bridge that we're our own team now and we'll concentrate on what we're doing, not dwell on the past."
Schmirler, of course, skipped the squad to Canada's only Olympic curling gold medal, in 1998, then succumbed to cancer in 2000. And it has been a long, hard road back to the Canadian Curling Trials, which open at the Halifax Metro Centre today.
DEALT WITH DEMONS
"We've dealt with all of the demons and we'd be foolish if we thought we didn't have to deal with some of the haunts," said McCusker, adding that they all watched the 2001 Olympic trials in Regina in person. "I think we did that at the 2001 trials. That was hard. Jan, Marcie and I were all at the 2002 Olympics as well. I was with CBC and the girls were brought down by the organizing committee, and we had to watch somebody else there, too. We cried about that.
"The other development for us was being at the Scott in 2003. With Jan skipping and not making it and having to deal with a lot of pressure, then being judged and compared and all those things that you don't want to happen but are going to. Actually that was the best thing that could have prepared us for this."
But Schmirler's spirit is still with them.
"I'm looking forward to enjoying the entire event and wearing Sandra on our shoulder," said McCusker, adding that the Sandra Schmirler Foundation logo is etched into their curling jackets. "She would be loving it and that's the way we're going to approach it, too -- just a lot of enjoyment and not a lot of looking back and not a lot of regret.
"We've had a lot of experiences with this team and developing a new identity. But she's in our hearts always, absolutely."
Betker, 45, qualified for these trials at the 2005 Canada Cup.
"We're excited to be back here," said Betker, who has Sherry Linton at third. "Any time you get to a competition like this, you know you've done something pretty good.
"We're never going to forget Sandra, obviously. But now, when we compete in an event like this, we can concentrate on our own game. We're our own team now, a totally different identity so, it's a little bit more comfortable out there right now."
Betker has also adjusted to calling the shots.
"Our team's chances are as good as anybody's," suggested McCusker, 40. "The experience factor's going to be huge."
They do, after all, boast Olympic gold.
"Everyone knows what the prize is and if you can't get motivated, then you don't belong here," Betker said.
"For the other teams that haven't been there, it's an extra mystique, right? The Olympics have this aura about them and we've been there so, we know what that is. That's enticement enough."
Betker was asked if they had brought those medals to Nova Scotia.
"No," she replied. "We're going to get new ones."