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Olympians Nina Roth and John Shuster Fell in Love with Curling at Early Age

By Sam Wigness, 02/01/18, 12:30PM CST

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U.S. skippers for the PyeongChang Winter Games were hooked on the sport before they reached high school

John Shuster grew up in the small mining town of Chisholm, Minnesota. Like Nina Roth's family, Shuster’s parents curled recreationally and exposed him to the sport at a young age.


U.S. Olympic curling skippers Nina Roth, left, and John Shuster, right, both got their start in the sport at a young age.

U.S. Olympic curling skippers John Shuster and Nina Roth head to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang from the same state sharing similar backgrounds, goals and polar opposite tastes in NFL teams.

Roth, a McFarland, Wisconsin native and a Green Bay Packers fan, fell in love with curling when she was 10-years-old after her mother brought her Girl Scout troop to the McFarland Curling Club. Immediately after the outing, Roth (formerly Spatola), and eventually the entire Spatola family, signed up for league play.

“If you went to the curling club, the Spatola’s were there,” Roth, now 29, said. “My earliest memory is watching my dad curl at the old curling club in Madison. I remember the plaid carpet – a staple in any traditional club.”

Roth’s first coach was Olympic curling legend Steve Brown, whose resume in the sport could fill a sheet of ice. Brown set a high bar for Roth early in her career, teaching her the importance of diligence and a delivery that she’s hardly changed over the years. In 2006, 18-year-old Roth watched the U.S. Olympic Trials in Madison and was inspired by what she saw.

“That was the first time I’d seen an event of that caliber up close,” she said. “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.”

Shuster, a 35-year-old Minnesota Vikings fan living in Superior, Wisconsin, grew up across the Minnesota-Wisconsin border in the small mining town of Chisholm, Minnesota. Like the Spatolas, Shuster’s parents curled recreationally and exposed him to the sport at a young age.

“I remember going to the curling club as a child, watching for 10 or 15 minutes and begging my mom to let me go play pool,” Shuster said. “The strategy is what held my attention for those 10 or 15 minutes. I also tried to always watch my dad’s shots.”

Nina Roth

Birthdate: July 21, 1988

Birthplace: McFarland, Wisconsin

Hometown: McFarland, Wisconsin

Residence: Madison, Wisconsin

Height: 5-foot-6

Quick facts:

1. Previously competed under her maiden name, Spatola

2. Grew up in same town as teammate Becca Hamilton

3. Works full-time as a registered nurse

Source: NBCOlympics.com

John Shuster

Birthdate: Nov. 3, 1982

Birthplace: Chisholm, Minnesota

Hometown: Chisholm, Minnesota

Residence: Superior, Wisconsin

Height/weight: 5-foot-11, 194 lbs

Quick facts:

1. Six-time national champion from 2003 to 2017

2. Lost 30 pounds since 2014 Sochi Olympics

3. Has two sons, Luke and Logan, with his wife Sara

Source: NBCOlympics.com

Shuster began throwing rocks as a 13-year-old. He recalls watching the 1997 Olympic Trials, about three or four years after he began curling and thinking that he could play at that level someday. When he was still in high school he made the playoffs at the Duluth Cash Spiel and took the Olympic team to the last rock. That’s when he knew he would be able to curl at the highest level.

Roth had a similar moment at the 2010 Women’s World championship.

“We played well as a team and I was able to thrive under pressure,” Roth said. “Since then I knew I had to keep playing at that level.”

Both Shuster and Roth balance careers with their year-round training regiments. Shuster works at Dick’s Sporting Good’s, “just enough to offset the cost of daycare” for his two kids, while Roth is a full-time registered nurse at Select Specialty Hospital in Madison and works three 12-hour shifts per week.

On work days, Roth rises at 4:30 a.m. for training which regularly includes an hour or two in the gym in the morning, two hours of at the rink in the afternoon and 15 to 30 minutes of mental training throughout. Shuster starts his day by dropping his kids off at daycare around 8 a.m. before hitting the gym and going to practice around noon.

“It may not seem like a full-time job training for three or four hours a day, but planning and timing are such that you really need six to eight hours to properly prepare to get those three or four hours in,” Shuster said.

Both agree that climbing the Manitou Incline in Colorado Springs was the most grueling workout they’ve experienced.

This will be Shuster’s fourth Winter Olympics after earning bronze in 2006, placing tenth in 2010 and ninth in 2014. His secret weapon for the upcoming games is his two kids, Luke and Logan, who are excited to travel the world with their dad.

“Being a parent has allowed me to compete more fearlessly,” Shuster said. “Because I know that being a parent will always be what matters most, I have been able to play with less pressure and a different perspective on life.”

Roth has been to South Korea twice, but this will be her first Olympic appearance. She said she is excited to see the coast, explore Olympic Village and have real Korean BBQ again.

For both, success in PyeongChang will take the form of a trip the podium.

“Every decision I've made since I can remember revolves around curling and my desire to accomplish my goals,” Roth said. “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?”