Long before she was a championship curler and a well-known Canadian broadcaster, Joan McCusker was growing up in rural Saskatchewan, in the small town of Saltcoats.
And she believes that her experiences in rural Saskatchewan helped her become the second on Sandra Schmirler's curling team – widely considered one of the greatest teams in curling history – and an Olympic gold medalist.
McCusker was the keynote speaker at the Estevan Farmer's Appreciation Evening on February 27 at the Days Inn Plaza. In a humourous and occasionally self-deprecating speech, she chronicled her curling career, and explained how growing up in rural Saskatchewan prepared her for the Olympics.
Farmers and Olympians have to be able to perform under pressure, she said.
“In my head, what better training ground than to work a harvest on a family farm to put one under pressure,” said McCusker.
Farmers and Olympians have to be able to be able to pass tests; they need to thrive with the skills and the tools that they possess; they understand the value of perseverance; they're proud of where they're from and the influence of their background; and they are able to find the positives and focus on things they can control.
“I often think about Saskatchewan farmers, and how they have learned that they cannot dwell on the past,” said McCusker.
McCusker brought her 1998 Olympic gold medal with her to Estevan, and circulated it among the spectators, allowing them to hold the medal and have their photo taken with it.
“Every time that I share it, and somebody says 'Wow, is that ever heavy,' or 'Is that ever cool,' I remember the first day that I got it on that podium, and I get to relive that memory over and over again,” said McCusker.
She also reflected on her broadcasting career. McCusker has been a commentator for the 2002, 2006 and 2014 Winter Olympics; her appearance in Estevan came less than a week after she returned from the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
McCusker lauded the skill of the Canadian teams in Sochi. Brad Jacobs won his last nine games, including a route over Great Britain in the final, to win gold in men's curling.
And Jennifer Jones went 11-0 to win gold. It was the first time that a Canadian women's team has won Olympic gold since the Schmirler rink in 1998.
McCusker said she believes that Jones' rink is even better than Schmirler's.
“They have made Olympic history against the strongest field ever assembled,” said McCusker. “There is no comparison. They win.
“Jennifer Jones played a 100 per cent game. And that was not against wide open takeouts and draws. I think this has been the most incredible performance by any Canadian women's (curling) team.”
As for the Jacobs rink, McCusker said she wasn't surprised that they won their final nine games after starting 1-2.
McCusker still curls in Regina, and her daughter plays with Schmirler's daughters in a league in Regina. She also dabbles in coaching, motivational speaking and substitute teaching.
McCusker wasn't the only speaker at the event. Three members of the Outram-Madigan 4-H Club addressed the crowd. Cloverbud Kyra Driedger, junior Carlee Ross and intermediate Cassidy Ross shared their experiences, and discussed topics of interest to them.