Brown's Olympic training a 9-to-5 balancing act
Getting Olympian curler Erika Brown on the phone is no easy task. The times she was available to speak were either 8:15 in the morning or 5:15 in the afternoon on weekdays - only for about thirty to forty minutes. It’s not because she’s spending those in-between hours entrenched at a rink, practicing curling. It's at that time when Brown commutes to and from work.
Brown, considered to be one of the best U.S. women’s curlers, works full time – nine-to-five, five days a week – as a physician assistant at the McMaster Family Practice in Hamilton, Ontario, about an hour from the U.S. border.
When Brown first moved to Ontario nine years ago, Canada did not even have physician assistants, so she commuted an hour and twenty minutes every day to Buffalo.
“I commuted there for five years before Canada got on the physician assistant bandwagon and [after that] I was one of the first PAs in Ontario.”
Brown was initially exposed to the profession as a student at the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1990s when her friends were physician assistants. She then went on and got her masters degree just before the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Brown’s first Olympics, in which her rink (team) finished tied for fifth in curling’s first Olympic tournament. Brown also competed at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary when curling was a demonstration [non-medal] sport.
After a sixteen-year absence from the Games, the 40-year-old mother of two (Cole, 5 and Nathan, 7) is now training for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but finding time to fit it in to her schedule is one of the challenges of balancing work, family and sport.
“It’s definitely a lot of time management skills,” says Brown on her drive home. “It’s a lot of work with two boys and so I get a great amount of help from my husband.”
Her husband is former competitive curler Ian Tetley, a Canadian curling champion who has won three world championship titles.
“He knows the commitment and what it takes,” Brown says graciously. "He’s great in helping out and being on his own a lot of weekends.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: The many lives of curler Erika Brown
Brown’s employer also understands the position she’s in so they “make it work in terms of time away.”
“I also have great teammates who help work our schedule around my family life,” Brown explains. “They spend a lot of time in Ontario and we plan a lot of events that allow me to be at home.”
“It’s fun when they’re all at my house and my kids get to know my team and I think it helps them when I’m not home. They know who I’m with and maybe it helps them understand more.”
The Wisconsin native may love curling and has her sights sets on medaling in Sochi, but she also loves being a physician assistant.
“It’s great!" Brown boasts. “I like patient care and seeing patients all the way from newborn to the elderly. It’s very diverse and every day is different. It’s great for me and it provides me flexibility.”
Being a physician assistant also helps with being the skip of her rink.
“Mostly it’s being able to communicate with people,” says Brown about comparing the two careers. ”When you’re working at the hospital, the one thing you learn is to listen carefully to your patients and read their cues."
With regards to her team, "everyone has their own style of communication. We’re all different," states Brown. "Trying to negotiate different personalities and different communication styles is probably the biggest overlap.”
Working full time as a physician assistant as opposed to curling full time is not an option for Brown, or most curlers in the U.S.
“[Curling]’s not an extremely lucrative sport. You definitely can’t sustain your family on your income from curling,” Brown exclaims. “The best teams might make $40,000 to $50,000. We never made that much money. Last season maybe we made $12,000 to $15,000 total, divide by four and then your expenses. The math doesn’t work.”
In preparation for Sochi, Brown has to utilize her time and her surroundings to train, which includes climbing eight flights of stairs near her office, whether it’s before or after work, or even during her lunch break.
“I reached my goal of 1,500 stairs in an outing,” says Brown of the stairs near McMaster. "It took me about a half hour."
Despite being only 40 years old, sustaining this lifestyle of work, motherhood and being a competitive curler is starting to weigh on her, causing Brown to think if the 2014 Games will be her last hurrah.
“I can’t say for sure," Brown speculates. "But we’re all putting everything into this year."
Moving forward, with regards to the time commitment and travel, Brown reveals she "definitely would not be keeping up this kind of intensity the next four years" or even be devoted to curling as she is this season "probably ever again." But, says Brown, "anything can happen."
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