Everybody loves a story about athletes coming from behind to win Olympic gold, so it is not surprising that Team USA’s curlers were trending on Twitter after their surprise victory.
However, for UW-Eau Claire junior Jenna Burchesky, the curling team’s historic win is more than a feel-good story — it is an inspiration.
The United States won its first Olympic gold in curling just a few days before Jenna left for Scotland, where she is competing in the World Junior Curling Championships March 3-11.
Only the top 10 junior women’s teams, consisting of athletes 21 and under, in the world compete in the international event.
“Watching John Shuster’s team make history by winning the United States' first Olympic gold medal in the sport of curling is truly an inspiration to all the junior competitors in the country,” says Jenna, a native of Walpole, Massachusetts. “We are watching our idols live their dreams and they are proof to us that it is possible, with enough motivation, hard work and determination to capture the dream.”
Jenna’s dreams include winning her own Olympic gold, something that seems even more possible given the USA curling team’s success in the 2018 games.
“We have seen it done,” Jenna says of winning gold. “I have grown up watching John Shuster and his team play in numerous world and Olympic events. I’ve seen their resilience and true grit to succeed.
“I aspire to stand where they stood, on the top of the Olympic podium, someday.”
Jenna’s march toward the Olympics began in the earliest years of her life.
A third-generation curler, it was Jenna’s grandfather who was the first in the family to discover the sport. He passed his passion for it on to Jenna’s father, who then introduced it to Jenna and her brother.
“I was sliding on the ice before I could walk,” says Jenna, an organizational communications major. “I have been competing to play at national championships since I was 12 years old. I won my first medal, a silver, at the age of 17, a bronze at 18, and a gold at 19 and then again at 20.”
Two years ago, Jenna was accepted into the United States National Training Program, also known as the High Performance Program.
“This program has given me opportunities like training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as well as access to top fitness trainers, a sports psychologist, coaches, teammates and other resources that help take my curling to the next level,” Jenna says.
The World Junior Curling Championships in Scotland is her curling team’s biggest event of the year.
“We also see it as a small step toward one day becoming Olympians,” Jenna says of the international competition.
To prepare, Jenna’s teammates train together at the Olympic Training Site for Curling in Blaine, Minnesota, on the weekends.
Each team member also trains individually at a club closer to home, which means Jenna spends many hours at the Eau Claire Curling Club.
“We travel to events all over the world in preparation for going into this competition,” Jenna says of the World Junior Curling Championships. “In December, we traveled to China where we played the Olympic women’s Chinese, Russian and U.S. teams. We also train hard in the gym. We have a sports psychologist who works with our team regularly, as well as access to a nutritionist.”
Jenna and her teammates also spend a week during the summer training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Although curling is thought of as a winter sport, we have no off season,” Jenna says. “I am consistently competing throughout the year in different parts of the country.”
The hard work is worth it because it allows her to be part of a unique sport that she loves, Jenna says.
While she loves the competition, she also values the friends she has made through curling.
Her teammate, Allison Howell of Ohio, is a lifelong friend.
“Our families are friends and we grew up together,” Jenna says of Allison. “We have played in five Junior National Championships together. We won a bronze, a silver, and two gold medals, always together.
“We have traveled the world together, from Canada to Korea, China and Scotland. We have made many friends along the way, both teammates and opponents. We have also made international friends that we cherish.”
Her other teammates are Wisconsin and Minnesota natives.
While she grew up on the East Coast, Jenna wanted to attend college in the Midwest so she would be closer to her teammates.
“I chose to move to Wisconsin for school to pursue my dreams of one day becoming an Olympian,” says Jenna. “When choosing a college, I applied to nine schools. I flew to Wisconsin to visit all the Midwest schools where I had applied.
“UWEC was my first and last stop on the trip. The moment I stepped onto campus, I fell in love with the school.”
It has been a great fit, she says, noting that her communications studies have helped her understand the important role communication plays in the sport of curling.
Soon Jenna will not be the only elite curler to call UW-Eau Claire home.
“UWEC is growing in the junior national level,” Jenna says. “Coming into our freshman class next year are two of the top junior women’s players in the country. Anya Normandeau is from Minnesota. She competed at the U21 Junior Nationals this year and will be attending UWEC in the fall. Rebecca Rodgers is from Massachusetts and won a bronze medal at the U21 Junior National Championships, and just won a silver medal at her last U18 National Championship.
“These two top curlers are both future Blugolds.”
Jenna is looking forward to sharing her campus with others who share a passion for her sport.
“I am proud to be a member of Team USA AND a Blugold,” Jenna says.
Photo caption: Jenna Burchesky is finding success on the international junior curling stage as part of Team USA. (Photo credit: Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.)