Erika Brown: Swept Up
Erika Brown was born with the curling gene.
At just a week old, she was already at the rink watching her dad, Steve, practice at the Madison Curling Club in Wisconsin. A few years later, she was part of the stalwart contingent of rink rats who played hide-and-go-seek and raided the vending machines while their parents practiced.
"All the adults would go on the ice for two hours and we were just in heaven," said the 40-year-old, three-time Olympian whose appearances at the Games span four decades. "The curling club was like one big playground and a second home to us."
Before long, Brown graduated to belly flops and goofball antics on the ice and, by 7 years old, she was getting her first lessons. Using Kleenex boxes and ashtrays as substitutes for the cumbersome 42-pound stones, her dad taught her the basics.
"He would grab whatever he could find to work on grip and delivery," she said of her father, who founded and owned Steve's Curling Supplies, the largest distributor of curling supplies in the United States.
Upon her entering middle school, he encouraged her to recruit three friends to form a team and visit the surrounding towns to compete in the local high school league.
"Looking back, it was a great strategy to get me interested," Brown said. "I got to hang out with my girlfriends, and at that age it was pretty cool to be able to travel around a little bit."
Having tasted the success of winning the state championship before she even reached high school, her passion for the sport quickly blossomed.
"In the spring of 1987, there was a sign-up sheet on a bulletin board at the curling club for the Wisconsin state Olympic trials, so my dad found three other women in the club who were good curlers and willing to play with a 14-year-old," Brown said.
After winning the state trials, the foursome bought $12 matching jackets required of teams advancing to the next level.
"I was too naive to even recognize what was happening," Brown said of being the youngest member of the U.S. delegation at the 1988 Olympics. "I don't think any of us knew what we were in for."
Despite the excitement surrounding the Games, she said it was the camaraderie with her teammates that has long cemented her love for the sport.
"The biggest reason I have always loved it has been the people I've gotten to play with," Brown said. "When you're on the road so many days every year, whether in my teens or now at 40, you want to be with people you enjoy and I've been very fortunate to have wonderful teammates."
Now a mother of two, a stepmother of one, the wife of a three-time world champion curler from Canada and a physician's assistant, she says her perspective has changed going into these Olympic Games 26 years after her debut.
"I don't think I fully appreciated what was happening at 15 years old," Brown said. "Being able to go again in 1998 and then working all these years to get back to the Olympics, this is the culmination of years of hard work."
With her father coaching the U.S. Paralympic wheelchair curling team in Sochi and her brother traveling with the men's team as an alternate, U.S. curling surely wouldn't be the same without the Brown family.
Will her passion for the sport pass down to the next generation?
"I just hope that in years to come my kids will look back on that time I'm gone in February for the Olympics and recognize that their mom was doing something that she really loved," Brown said. "Maybe someday they will love it, too."