Rolling out the red carpet

ANGELA MACISAAC -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

Less than a month ago, Shannon Kleibrink, Amy Nixon, Glenys Bakker and Christine Keshen walked through the WestJet doors at Calgary airport.

They were returning home from Abbotsford, after getting knocked out of the quarter-final of a cashspiel.

Nixon turned to Keshen and said: "The next time we come through these doors, there will be a huge crowd waiting for us."

The crowd was big yesterday as family and friends welcomed the four Calgary women home from Halifax, where they became Canada's curling team for the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Feb. 10-26.

"There's our crowd," said a beaming Keshen, who had no trouble soaking up the spotlight.

"I was actually shaking when I was coming down the stairs.

"This is so awesome. I just can't explain this feeling. It's a relief but there's so much to do now."

Uh, that's an understatement.

The Kleibrink foursome, which dispatched Kelowna's Kelly Scott 8-7 with a three-ender in the 10th Saturday, surrenders itself to the Canadian Curling Association and the Canadian Olympic Committee.

The women, including fifth Sandra Jenkins from Salmon Arm, B.C., get a few weeks to enjoy the holidays before being whisked off to Switzerland for a spiel against many of the European teams they'll face in Turin.

Then it's off to Kamloops for the Strauss Canada Cup, which they won last spring. They've figured out they're home for less than two weeks in January and just two days in February.

The first step is accepting they're Olympians.

Kleibrink, a 37-year-old mother of two, acknowledged the whirlwind in which her team is caught up -- and the pressure that comes along with being a curler representing Canada.

After all, only the late Sandra Schmirler, who beat Kleibrink at the 1997 trials in Brandon, has won curling gold at the Olympics.

"We realize what's expected of us," said Kleibrink, grinning from ear to ear. "But we're ready. There's no greater honour than competing for Canada and we'll do our very best to bring back gold.

"But we're just still curlers. It's kind of hard to think of ourselves as Olympians just yet."

The road ahead for Bakker becomes logistically difficult, though. She's still nursing three-month-old Sara and she's not sure whether she and husband Adrian will leave her daughter and three-year-old son, Ryan, behind in Calgary.

"This is a dream that has been 10 years in the making," Bakker said, recalling the journey she started in Brandon with Kleibrink.

"I always told Shannon we'd go together some day. And it's kind of funny because Sandra was in my shoes 10 years ago."

Schmirler had two young children, including a three-month-old daughter, at home. But she managed to handle the situation with poise and brought home the gold.

"When she won, I remember her breaking down and saying, 'How am I going to do this?' At the time, I didn't really feel a lot of empathy for her because you're going to the Olympics," said Bakker, tears streaming down her face. "How can you be sad about that? But now I totally understand how she felt."


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