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Q&A with Nina Roth

Olympic Preview: U.S. Olympic Team Media Summit
Jeffrey Swinger

Q&A with Nina Roth

U.S curler Nina Roth on her curling stone tattoo, Olympic role model and how she balances nursing and training

What’s your family like?

My family is really close. My parents are Ken and Alane Spatola. I have a younger brother Nick Spatola. My husband Tony Roth and I have been married for 3 years.

How influential were your parents in your athletic career and in what ways?

My parents have been my biggest supporters. I started curling when I was 10 years old. My mother, who was my Girl Scout troop leader, took us to try curling at the McFarland Curling Club. I loved it and signed up for junior league immediately. My father curled recreationally when my brother and I were younger, but when I showed interest he started curling again as well. Eventually, my whole family was curling. If you went to the curling club, the Spatolas were there! My parents drove me all around the country and Canada to play in junior bonspiels, and since then they've flown all around the world to support me and my teams.

Do you have another full-time job or business? How do you balance work and training?

I've been lucky enough to pursue two great passions in my life: curling and nursing. I'm a full-time Registered Nurse in Madison, Wi. and work for Select Specialty Hospital. My supervisors are very supportive of my curling career. They let me arrange my work schedule around my curling events. I work 12-hour shifts, 3 days a week, which means early morning workouts and practices.

Do you have any pets?

I have two cats, Lea and Lady. They hate to see me leave and are always eager to snuggle when I get home.

In your hometown of Madison, Wis., what are your favorite spots to relax, eat out, etc?

My favorite spots in Madison are the Memorial Union in the summer. It’s a great place to relax and watch a band by Lake Mendota. You can take a jog around the state capitol. Angelo’s Pizza in McFarland has fantastic Italian food and visiting the Great Dane downtown for local beers, darts, and pool.

Also, going kayaking on Lake Monona. 

What time do you wake up? How much, and when, do you sleep each day during training?

I wake up at 4:30 am on work days, 8:00 am on my off days.        

I need my sleep, I prefer 8 hours each night. I usually go to sleep around 10 pm. Sometimes earlier. I'm not a night owl.

How much time do you spend training each day?

2 hours practice, 1 and half hours in the gym, and 15-30 minutes training mentally.

What’s your typical training day/schedule?

Gym time in the morning. Usually, my teammate Becca and I will go to the gym for strength training for 1 and a half to 2 hours, grab lunch and head to the Madison Curling Club around noon and practice for a couple hours. A few days a week we go back to the club at night for league games.

How do you work to achieve your daily goals?          

Getting sleep is very important for me to recharge. I mix up workouts so I don't get bored. I also watch motivational videos or listen to music that motivates me.

What is your favorite workout or fitness trend?

Cycling! With the black lights and throwback music!

What’s the most grueling work out you’ve ever done?

Circuit workouts at the Olympic Training Center, or the Manitou Incline in Colorado Springs.

What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?

Every decision I've made since I can remember revolves around curling and my desire to accomplish my goals. From college to my job, how I hang out with my friends, how long I stay out at night or what I eat or drink. I've tried to live every day thinking, what I have done today to help me towards my goals?

What is your earliest memory of doing or seeing curling?

My earliest memory is watching my dad curl at the old curling club in Madison WI. I remember the plaid carpet, a staple in any traditional club. Steve Brown, an Olympic coach and national champion many times over, gave me my first curling pin that day. He later became my first coach.

What's your earliest or favorite memory of watching the Olympics?                                 

The 2006 U.S. Olympic Trials were in my hometown when I was in high school. That was the first time I'd seen an event of that caliber up close. I was in awe of all the female curlers, and how they carried themselves on and off the ice. I knew I wanted to compete at this level. That year I watched almost every game Team USA played. Now I watch other sports too. I've watched and re-watched the U.S. women's gymnastics team win in London and Rio.

Was there a specific “breakthrough” moment/competition when you finally realized you could compete in your sport at a high enough level to reach the Olympics?

I always wanted to play at that level but things really came together at the 2010 Women's World Championship. We played well as a team, and I was able to thrive under the pressure. Since then I knew I had to keep playing at that level!

What's something cool, weird intense about your sport that people don't normally see? What’s the hardest part of your sport?

Team chemistry is vital to success. We spend a lot of time together on and off the ice. On the ice, there may seem to be a lot of downtime, but we are always thinking, planning and observing.

Are there any misconceptions about your sport that you would like to clear up?

Curling takes a lot of strength and physical fitness to perform at a high level. We spend a lot of time in the gym.

Who do you socialize with most within your sport or any sport?

Bingyu Wang,  the skip of Team China actually went to school for a year on Madison awhile back. We've known each other for a long time. This past season her team traveled to the U.S. to play in Curling Night in America, and a few months later it was special to be able to play at the world championships in China.

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Have you ever worked with a sports psychologist? If so, how did it help you?

I've been working with Carly Anderson for 3 years now. She has helped me to improve in so many ways. My mental strength and resilience have improved dramatically. I've learned to see difficult situations as challenges to overcome rather than disappointments.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

"Have fun." It seems silly but when you take a sport as seriously as we do, having fun can seem difficult as times. But having fun, playing loose is much easier than being stressed.

What's a big obstacle that you've overcome in your life?

Graduating nursing school while being a competitive curler!

What is your biggest fear when competing?

That I'll look back at my curling career and wish I would've worked harder. This thought pushes me to work as hard as possible every day.

Who is your Olympic role model?

Annette Norberg, 2006 and 2010 Olympic champion, 2005, 2006 and 2011 world champion. I met her for the first time at the 2008 Junior World Championships.

Within your sport, who has been your greatest influence and why?

Early in my career, my first coach Steve Brown set a high bar of expectations for me. We practiced before and after school. Practices were fun, but he taught me the importance of being diligent. He helped build my delivery, which hasn't changed very much since. 

My last coach Ann Swisshelm was a great influence these past 3 years. She reminded me to have fun before every game. She encouraged our team off and on the ice to keep improving, not to be the team in the US, but to be the best in the world.

What athlete in any sport has been your greatest source of inspiration?

Serena Williams. She's fun to watch. She's not afraid to be a strong competitive woman. That makes her the perfect role model for young women in sport.

What advice would you give to a young child just starting out in curling?

Try to do your best every day.

Who is your biggest rival? Is it friendly or contentious?

Both women's teams in the national program, [rinks skipped by] Jamie Sinclair and Corey Christensen. We'll be playing them at the Olympic Trials in November. Because we've been in the program for the past 3 years we all know each other very well.

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Which Summer Olympics sport would you like to try?

Gymnastics! I want to try the rings in the men's division, and the uneven bars from the women's division. And I couldn't try it without a blinged out leotard.

Who was the most influential in helping you achieve your dreams?

My family and my husband. My husband Tony is competitive, but much more laid back than I am. Whenever I'm stressed or worried he's the calming influence in my life. His favorite thing to tell me is, "Water off a duck's back" meaning let it go, don't worry about it, move on.

How and where do you train during the summer?

In the summer the closest curling ice is in Blaine Minn., 4 hours away. In the off-season, we travel to Blaine a couple times a month for some on-ice time. When we're home we go to the gym a lot and watch a lot of curling games. Because we're a winter sport and we all live in the cold Midwest, getting outside in the summer is very important, so anytime we can bring our workouts outside, we take advantage.

What is your favorite perk of being an elite Olympic athlete?

Getting to travel the world! I've been to so many places I never thought I'd get a chance to go to. Our latest adventure was Dudinka, Russia by the Arctic Circle!

Do you have a lucky charm?

I have a Superman necklace I keep in my curling kit. My grandmother gave it to me after the women's world championships in 2017.

Do you have any superstitions?

I'm not superstitious, but I need to tie my shoes a certain way, with the right amount of tension in order to play.

Do you have a nickname?

Neen, you'll hear my teammates call me Neen a lot.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I can flare my nostrils.

Do you have any tattoos?

Curling stone with an American flag on my right foot.

If you were not an athlete, what would you be doing?

Travel nursing in foreign countries.

When you have time off, what would constitute a perfect day for you?

Perfect day off, I hang out at my house with my family and friends. We grill out, play games on the lawn, maybe watch a sports game on TV.

How do you unwind after a competition?

Sleep. Maybe a glass of wine before bed.

Do you have any fears?

I'm afraid of falling. Heights I'm ok with but the idea of falling is making my hands clammy.

Do you like to travel?  What has been the most special place you have traveled to and why?

I enjoy traveling. Traveling to China this year was very special to see a city so rich with history. The Great Wall of China was amazing.

What's something quirky about yourself that people would be amused to learn?

I'm a movie nerd. Especially Star Wars, and superhero movies.

What's your personal motto?

"She thought she could, and she did." To me this means if you believe in yourself and work hard you can accomplish anything.

What are some of your hobbies?

Hiking Devils Lake, Wis. with friends at least once a year.  Taking a cycling class. Going to the movies with my husband, it's a frequent date night for us. My family has a tradition where we go to a Brewers baseball game together every year.

What is your music of choice while training? What are five go-to songs that motivate you while training?                                               

Hip Hop/Rap and Pop

Beyoncé:  Flawless
Eminem: Rap God
Macklemore: Glorious
Black Street: No Diggity
No Doubt: Just a Girl

Have you been to South Korea before? What are you most looking forward to about the Games being hosted in South Korea? Anything you want to see or do?

I've been to South Korea Twice, Jeonju and Uiseong. I'm most looking forward to playing in the arena, but I love Korea. I'm excited to see the coast and explore the village as much as possible. I have to have some Korean BBQ while I'm there!

Do you like kimchi or any other Korean foods?

I love Korean BBQ. When we were last in Korea, my team was trying to figure out how to properly eat it and the server came up to us, rolled up a BBQ bite and hand fed it to Aileen. 

Have you ever done karaoke? What’s your go-to karaoke song?

"Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus or "Just a Girl" by No Doubt

What will success look like for you in PyeongChang? What are your goals?

The feeling that I played my best, and part of that is standing on the podium hearing my national anthem.

Will you head home for the holidays prior to the Games? What do you most look forward to?

We'll spend the holidays with family in Madison. We usually celebrate with Tony's family on Christmas Eve and my family on Christmas day. I most look forward to playing euchre, cards, with my family.

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