BEMIDJI -- There’s arguably nobody more recognizable in the world of American curling than John Shuster.
Since skipping the U.S. men to a historic Olympic gold medal -- the first for the U.S. in the sport -- two years ago in South Korea, Shuster has become the face of curling for many in this country.
That’s what happens when Jimmy Fallon invites your team to sing “Don’t Stop Believin’” on “The Tonight Show” and is celebrated as one of the best feel-good stories of an Olympic Games.
“It’s changed a lot and it hasn’t changed a lot,” Shuster said regarding his life since the gold-medal run. “We got to do some really fun, crazy stuff since winning the Olympics. But at the same point, I still curl in Tuesday night leagues. I still practice. I’m still dad to two kids, and a husband.
“Around town, yeah, I take the odd selfie with people. But really it’s changed just from an opportunity standpoint, but I don’t feel like a celebrity out around town or out in public or anything like that.”
Shuster, a Chisholm native now living in Superior, Wis., has represented the U.S. at each of the last four Winter Olympics. That streak began in 2006 as a member of Bemidji native Pete Fenson’s team that became the first American squad to medal in curling by winning Olympic bronze. Along with Bemidji’s Joe Polo and Chisholm’s Shawn Rojeski, the Fenson foursome also claimed the 2006 national title on home ice in Bemidji.
“I have some great memories of this club,” said Shuster, 37. “Like playing out of districts here the first year I played with Pete, and lots of practices and playing on his team, and then in 2006 we won the national championship here.”
Shuster, a Duluth Curling Club member, has seven men’s national titles to his name, three of which came while playing with Fenson. His current team has been crowned national champions in each of the last two years, including the 2020 title two weeks ago in Spokane, Wash.
Being a young curler on Fenson’s rink for parts of five seasons from 2002-07 left a mark on Shuster that has stuck with him in the decade since.
“What it really taught me from a very young age, because I was still in juniors when I started playing with Pete, was I took everything in that we were doing and the professionalism of being on a competitive men’s team,” Shuster said. “And I really tried to build all my teams since then off that.”
Shuster and teammate Cory Christensen of Duluth entered this weekend's USA Curling Mixed Doubles National Championship in Bemidji as reigning champions after claiming the 2019 title in Seattle. They have plenty of challengers hoping to supplant them.
“Our national championships in mixed doubles are played at an extremely high level,” Shuster said. “We played great last year in our national championships and we still had some really, really close games. We’re going to have to come here and play great again. It looks like the ice is going to be good. Hopefully we can play great and see what happens.”