Sweeping her way to a curling championship

Alex Carlson curls against Russia during the 2010 USA Junior Women's Draw.

Marquette is the home to great athletes: Doc Rivers, Steve Novak and, of course, Dwyane Wade.

Soon, Marquette could add another name to this list of distinguished athletes — Alex Carlson.

Carlson’s skills are not showcased on the basketball court. Instead, her true talent is displayed on the ice.

Carlson, a junior in the College of Engineering, is an amateur curler who has earned a trip to the World Junior Curling Championship in Flims, Switzerland, a town located about an hour from Zurich. The competition starts the first week of March.

In curling, four-person teams take turns sliding a large granite stone down a sheet of ice. As the polished stone is sent down the ice, it is accompanied by two sweepers to the target, called the “house.” By sweeping in front of the stone, sweepers can make it travel farther down the ice and keep it on a more direct path of delivery. The two other teammates give the sweepers instructions to help the stone reach the house.

Getting to the world championship was no easy task for Carlson. It required lengthy training and strong teamwork.

For Carlson, curling runs in the family. Her parents curled for years and passed the sport down to her when she was four. She played recreationally throughout her childhood and has been playing competitively for the past seven years.

While growing up in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, Carlson competed with a local curling club. After coming to Marquette, Carlson began training at a curling club in Wauwatosa.

Earning the honor to travel to the world championships can be physically exhausting at times, Carlson said. In addition to spending about 10 hours practicing each week, she also does running, cardio and toning training twice a week. Carlson spends even more time on the ice when she competes in weekend tournaments.

Competing at such a high level requires Carlson to make some academic sacrifices as well. Competitions during the spring semester will require her to miss three weeks of classes. Although professors have been accommodating, she said keeping up with coursework is still challenging.

“My professors have allowed me to reschedule my tests and turn in my work,” Carlson said. “But the toughest part about competing is having to teach yourself all the material.”

Through all the difficulties of competing, Carlson said her team makes the competitions particularly enjoyable.

“If I didn’t have such a fun team, it wouldn’t be the same,” Carlson said. “We go out to win, but we also just want to play and have fun.”

When she travels to Switzerland, Carlson will compete with teams from around the world in the junior division — which includes athletes up to age 21.

When Carlson, her four teammates and her coach travel to Switzerland next month, they will leave a couple days early in order to recover from jet lag and rest up, said Bev Schroeder, the National Team Leader and Director of Member Services for the United States Curling Association.

Carlson’s women’s team will travel to the championship with its male counterparts, Schroeder said.

Helping athletes attend the World Junior Curling Championship is not the only thing the USCA does to promote curling to young people.

The organization holds four curling camps over the summer where young people can learn techniques and sharpen their skills, said Terry Kolesar, USCA director of communications.

The USCA has also created a college curling program through which students can compete at a recreational level, Kolesar said.

On campus, Marquette has a club curling team that practices once a week in Wauwatosa and competes in several tournaments each year. 

When Carlson competes in the world championship next month, there will be no scholarships or monetary rewards given for an outstanding performance.

“It’s not a big enough sport yet,” Carlson said. “Most colleges don’t have teams, so there really isn’t any money in it.”

Instead, Carlson and her teammates will be playing for the honor and recognition that comes with being the best in the world.