Becoming an Olympic athlete: Q & A with Courtney George

Courtney George MAOT'13

Courtney George MAOT'13 balanced grueling graduate school and curling schedules during her latest bid for the Olympics. Photo courtesy of David Samson/The Forum.

As the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi swing into full gear this week, Courtney George MAOT’13 discussed what it takes to be an Olympic athlete in a recent interview.

George, a Minnesota native who hails originally from Duluth, started curling at age 9 and has been competing nationally and internationally since 2001. After placing high numerous times in the U.S. and World Championships, George secured a place in the 2006 Olympics.

Hoping for a repeat appearance in the 2014 Olympics, George fell just short of making the cut with a 4th place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials in November. While she continues to compete, George is now focusing efforts on her professional career as a newly minted graduate of St. Kate’s Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy program. She's hitting the books again — her board exams just weeks away.

What attracted you to curling and eventually led to you competing?

It never really occurred to me to play sports recreationally. When I started curling, I was always watching my brother Tyler, my dad, and my cousins play competitively, so I think I just assumed I’d do the same. I found out I had a knack for it right away, and I think that really excited me and inspired me to see just how good I could be. Not to mention it was fun and I made a lot of curling friends quickly. Curling is a very social sport and a great thing to get involved in as a kid.

Describe what it takes to prepare and qualify for the Olympics. How many hours a week do you practice?

The most important part of preparation is playing against the best teams in the world. This is the only way to be ready to play teams of Olympic caliber. From August to November, we played in seven World Curling Tour events across the Midwest and Canada. We also participated in elite camps, team practices, individual practices, and played in two or more league games per week in our respective home clubs.

Our team was very committed to staying physically fit in order to endure long tournament weekends. Overall, training could consist of 20 to 30 hours per week depending on whether it was a tournament weekend.

What was it like competing in the 2006 Olympics?

The competition aspect itself was not unlike other World Championships I had participated in before. It was everything that surrounded the competition that was extraordinary. In particular, the Opening Ceremonies were the most incredible experience of my life. There is no way to really describe what it is like to walk out wearing your country’s colors knowing the entire world is watching. It is very overwhelming. I felt very fortunate and humbled to be surrounded by so many accomplished athletes.

During your latest bid at the Olympics you were also finishing up clinical hours for your master’s degree in occupational therapy. How did you balance two very grueling schedules?

The wonderful therapists at Woodwinds Hospital, the fieldwork site where I was placed, were incredibly accommodating. They allowed me to create a work schedule around my curling schedule, and extend my time at the site in order to fulfill my requirement. This was really the only way I could have balanced my competition schedule.

In terms of balancing practice, games, and workouts while working full-time at the hospital, I really just forfeited all “free time” to curling-related activity. But, I was always able to prioritize and realize what needed to be done above all else. Fieldwork was every bit as important to me as the Olympic Trials and sometimes that really did have to come before curling.

Who has been your inspiration along the way?

I would have to say that my parents have always inspired me. They have always made me believe that if I want something, I should just do it. They have always supported my decisions and have been the key players in my success. They believe in me, and I think that has allowed me to also believe in myself. I just feel so lucky to have them.

Any tips for young athletes who have their sights set on the Olympics?

Something said at the Super Bowl made me think of my own dad. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said that his father always told him, “why not you?” I love that! Seriously, why not? If the Olympics — or anything really — is truly a goal of yours, just do it.

Obviously it doesn’t just happen because you want it to happen, but if it is important to you, then set a goal, make a plan, work hard, and more than anything, find the best resources possible. Hard work isn’t worth anything if you’re getting the wrong advice or practicing the wrong things. Go to camps, find the experts, and be honest with yourself about where you need to improve.

By Sharon Rolenc