NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. – Joan McCusker, a curler from Saskatchewan, would never have been able to prepare for the guilt she would feel trying to balance the roles of a new mother and an elite curler.
It was 1993 and the Sandra Schmirler rink was about to win its first Scotties championship. McCusker played second place for the team, while trying to be the best mother possible.
She recalls having to leave the ice several times during the fifth break to nurse her three-month-old son, Rory.
The team won its first championship in February 1993. They were all thrilled. But McCusker was devastated because she felt like she had abandoned her baby.
"It has so traumatized me," she said. "I was going to stop because I wanted more kids and I could not imagine letting them play again."
McCusker's husband, along with his team, urged her to continue, reassuring her that she was not the absent mother that she thought she was. This led McCusker to wonder how many other competitive curlers had young children at that time.
"I had to do my own research to find out," McCusker said. "There were very few Canadian women members [rinks] who had children and continued to play. "
The Schmirler team won two Scotties titles in pairs, but lost their bid for three rounds in 1995. It was after this season that the team got together to talk about planning for their pregnancy before the first few Olympic trials, before the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, where the sport would debut. They wanted children but they also wanted to bend.
"I think my team was innovative in the fact that we wanted to have our cake and eat it too," McCusker said. "And at that time, if you found your family, it was planned that you would stop competitive curling and take care of your children."
In 1996, in just a few months, McCusker, Marcia Gudereit and Jan Betker all had babies.
"Jan and I ended up being pregnant at the same time and had babies in May and July, Marcie had Colin in December," McCusker said.
Schmirler was getting pregnant at the same time and in 1997, she had her first child. The only problem was that there were only two months left before the Olympic trials.
"Sandra gave birth by caesarean section in September 1997 and we competed in the Olympic trials eight weeks later," said McCusker.
They would have the right to represent Canada and win the first Olympic gold medal in curling.
"I swear that our recipe for success in winning the very first Olympic Trials was that our captain had an eight week old baby and that the rest of us had babies," McCusker said.
The team also hoped to represent Canada at the Olympic Games four years later in Salt Lake City. They traced what the next years would look like. The first year was dedicated to their Olympic reputation. The following year, it was again like having babies.
"It was the year of the family and then the plan was to go back to the Olympics," McCusker said.
And they all delivered at the exact time.
Schmirler, McCusker, Betker and Gudereit all had their next baby tour within six months.
"We were training and laughing about our projects," McCusker said. "It's at this point that Sandra started to feel less well.We thought it was a pregnancy and that it was a cancer."
Schmirler died of cancer in March 2000.
Just a few weeks ago, one of the most prominent figures of the game announced that she was going to have a baby. Rachel Homan's due date is June 14th. The moment is apparently perfect for the curling season.
"It's hard to plan these things and obviously the family is much more important than curling," Homan said. "In the end, everyone in the team knows that the family comes first."
The Homan team is currently ranked No. 1 in the world and has won two consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. She says that she feels really good right now and that she has felt no harm for her pregnancy.
The last event of the year is the month of May in Beijing – the last stop on the World Cup curling circuit. The Homan team will play under the victory of the first leg.
"Fortunately, it goes without saying that I will not miss anything in the curling season, I will try to play as long as I can and I feel really good right now, we are excited for the future," said Homan.
"Beijing may be difficult, but we'll see how it goes, we have a full season together."
The family first
Jennifer Jones had her first baby in 2012, at a time when there was a lot going on in her life. Not only had she become a mother for the first time in the fall of 2012, but she had also had a knee surgery. There was a lot to do and the Olympic trials in December 2013 were fast approaching.
Undeterred, Jones was a missionary woman playing the role of super mom and super curler. She would guide her team to a victory at Olympic trials and Olympic gold a year later. His second daughter, Skyla, was born in August 2016.
One of the biggest winners of all time admits that it can be difficult to reconcile being both a curler and a full-time mother, but she would not want it to be any other way.
"Your kids make every part of your life better," Jones said. "The most important thing for me is that I want my daughters to be proud of me."
Jones said that her mother had been the greatest blessing as a babysitter when she attended an event – her husband Brent Laing was relaxing with the Epping team and participating in many of the same events.
"It can be difficult," Jones admitted. "But our mothers have been great, my mother is a superstar, she's just 75 years old."
Jones knows that she has sacrificed precious time with her daughters while she is on the ice, but hopes to be able to teach her daughters to go beyond goals.
"I want to be a model for them and know that they should always pursue their dreams.Yes, mom is often absent, but she pursues her dreams and I want them to do the same."