COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It took a little while for Jessica Schultz, a member of the U.S. Olympic team, to warm up to curling.
But once she did, the Anchorage, Alaska, native cannot imagine life without the sport.
"The curling community is my family," she said. "I can't see myself without curling."
An elite international event is on tap this weekend with the Continental Cup in Las Vegas from Thursday through Sunday. The event pits Team North America vs. Team World and serves as a final tuneup before the Sochi Olympics next month.
"It's meant to be a showcase like the Ryder Cup," Schultz said. "It will be great to play with the Canadians and get in some good games against the Europeans."
It also mimics golf's Skins Game with teams playing for money. That is important for a sport that does not draw big-time sponsors.
But the size of the sport is also what makes it attractive to Schultz, who did not enjoy it when introduced by her father at a family game night in 1997. She got over it and embraced it.
"It brings folks together from all levels, from Olympians to raw beginners," Schultz said. "It is a very social sport. I try to be friends with everybody because you never know when you may end up on a team together. But once play begins, it is competition."
Anchorage is proud of their Olympian, hanging a banner at a fundraiser she participated in for the local club's efforts to erect a new building. Most of the top curlers spend time giving back hoping to grow their sport beyond the traditional upper Midwest region.
Schultz moved to Duluth, Minn., to attend college and take a step up in competition after playing on six straight Alaska junior championship teams.
She succeeded quickly, making the 2006 Olympic team, which finished eighth.
That experience and her team falling short of a berth in 2010 galvanized a talented group. They won the Olympic trials where Schultz, 29, threw the stone with a team-high 92 percent success rate.
"We all sat down and determined what we needed to do to achieve our goal," Schultz said. "We have been working the past three years for this."
They have a strong chance to medal in Sochi, after placing fourth at the 2013 world championships. Eighth will not cut it.
"We can definitely be on the podium," she said. "We have the team and the drive to be at the top."
(c)2014 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Visit The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) at www.gazette.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services