A Bemidji curler will take her first step onto the ice as an Olympian in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
The Debbie McCormick rink, with Bemidji's Natalie Nicholson as lead, won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Feb. 28 in Broomfield, Colo., a Denver suburb. It was Nicholson's fourth Olympic Team Trials and first win there.
"It really can't get much better," said Nicholson, 33. "It was just a huge accomplishment I've been training for."
Nicholson paced the team with a 90-percent shooting rating in the finals against the Patti Lank rink at the Olympic Team Trials.
Since 2000, Nicholson has helped her teams win seven U.S. National Championships, and competed in six Women's World Championships. She also curled on the Junior Women's Nationals champion teams in 1995 and 1997, and competed at two Junior Women's Worlds.
Nicholson's husband, John, and parents, Bruce and Millicent Simenson of Bemidji, traveled to last month's Olympic Team Trials to watch her compete.
"It was really nice to have family there," Nicholson said.
Many family and friends of the team, she said, have expressed interest in going to the Olympics to watch the team.
"I think we'll have a nice group," Nicholson said.
Nicholson began curling in 1993 at the Bemidji Curling Club with the encouragement of two high school friends, Matt Stevens and Missi O'Connell.
O'Connell's uncle, long-time Bemidji curler Bob Fenson,coached Nicholson for eight years for junior women's curling and women's curling. In 2006 in Turin, Italy, Fenson coached the men's Olympic bronze medalist curling team with two Bemidji residents on it: his son, Pete Fenson, as skip, and Scott Baird as alternate.
"He's just always been there for me," Nicholson said.
With the Olympics approaching, Nicholson said she plans to seek guidance from several friends who have competed in the Olympics. That list includes McCormick, who curled in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics.
McCormick, who lives in Rio, Wis., is the team's skip. Along with McCormick and Nicholson, the team also includes second Nicole Joraanstad of Madison, Wis., and vice skip Allison Pottinger of Eden Prairie, Minn. The four athletes have been curling together for four years straight after years of competing against one another.
"It's a really good dynamic that we have," Nicholson said. "We're improving every year."
Nicholson joined the team during the 2005-06 season as an alternate after team member Tracy Sachtjen suffered an injury. Sachtjen, now the team's alternate, will travel with the team to the Winter Olympics. Nicholson said the team has a lot of practice and experience.
"We're looking forward to embracing everything that kind of comes our way," she said.
This summer, Nicholson plans to spend some time cross-training by biking, inline skating, golfing and swimming. She also will spend time at home with her husband and their 7-month-old daughter, Stella.The U.S. Curling Association also has put together a tentative training schedule for the team.
But for now, Nicholson said, the team is focusing on its next competition - the World Women's Curling Championships in Gangneung, South Korea. The event begins Saturday and will continue through March 29.
"Then we'll look on to the Olympics," Nicholson said.