Hearts & Tears

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:22 AM ET

Lois Fowler remembers it as if it were yesterday.

As the Manitoba skip at the 1998 Scott Tournament of Hearts, Fowler was there when the Sandra Schmirler squad made its triumphant march down the ice in Regina, their Olympic gold medals draped around their necks.

"It was unreal when those girls came out," Fowler said. "Those girls had just arrived home from (the Olympics in) Nagano (Japan) ... and, as Team Canada (1997 Canadian champs), they came out last.

"People just stood up in the stands and held up signs saying, 'Thanks for the Gold.' It was really moving and it was quite a thrill to be a part of it."

Schmirler had just won Canada's first and, to this date, only women's curling Olympic gold medal and returned to their home province to compete at the Scott.

"The arena was packed for the opening ceremonies," said Cathy Trowell, who was Saskatchewan's rep because Schmirler was Team Canada, that year. "And they got a standing ovation that was electrifying. It still sends goose bumps. I'll never forget that moment. It was as exciting as it can be."

Trowell is co-chair of this year's Scotties Tournament of Hearts and helped organize Friday's special ceremony for the teammates whom the late Schmirler left behind, as well as yesterday's ceremonial rock toss.

But nothing will ever compare to that triumphant gold-medal march.

"That arena was completely packed," said co-chair Ron Pugsley. "And there weren't too many events where we had it so packed. The applause they got just went on for an eternity. I looked through the crowd and saw all the tears mixed in with the cheers. I even remember exactly where I was standing -- near the rail at the away end and I watched them march in."

It was one of those historic moments when you remember exactly where you were.

"I don't think anybody who was there could ever forget it," said Scott Paper's Robin Wilson, the tournament co-ordinator. "The place was packed and everyone went wild. They must have clapped for 10 minutes. It was very emotional."

STATE OF SHOCK

Marcia Gudereit, who played lead for the world's most famous women's foursome, was still in a state of shock at the time. The girls, who had overcame the flu to win the gold, were caught in a whirlwind as they jetted back to earth, or at least their Saskatchewan home.

"I don't remember much because we were pretty sleepy and tired," she said. "Even after it happened, I said to my husband, 'Do you believe it?' It still sends shivers down my spine every time I think of that march down the ice."

Third Jan Betker was shocked at the response.

"Ten years ago, we were in a fog because we were so tired," she said. "But I was surprised at that reaction. I never expected anything of that magnitude.

"But we had a real sense of pride. It's not every day that you get to attend the Olympics, never mind win a medal. That was pretty special."

McCusker concurred.

"It is one of the only things that stand out from that week," she said. "It's hard for people to put that into perspective because we were all in such a fog. I don't remember being that whacked out before or since. But that march down the ice was the most memorable and energizing salute we ever had.

"But this is going to be another week where it's just the three of us and that hurts."

While the 10-year anniversary of winning Olympic gold has started, it has reminded everyone that cancer took Schmirler away much too soon.

"It's always nice to be remembered for something you've done," said Betker, "but we will never be able to celebrate without a tinge of sadness. We will never forget her or what she did for us."

Gudereit agreed.

"It's going to bring back a lot of memories and I'm going to be a bundle of emotions this week," she said.


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