Sara England lives with the legacy of a mom she hardly knew.
Among the shards of memory she has of three-time world women’s curling champion and 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics gold-medallist Sandra Schmirler is the tattoo that England proudly bears from The Little Mermaid.
She was two years old when her mother died of cancer in 2000, but has a cherished audio of her mom singing to her the song Part Of Your World from that classic Disney film.
More than just the Schmirler aura has followed her daughter to Archie Browning Sports Centre, where England is representing Saskatchewan as the third on the Kaitlyn Jones rink at the 2017 Canadian Junior Championships. (Saskatchewan is 3-1 after suffering its first loss in a 6-4 defeat Monday afternoon at the hands of the Kristin Clarke rink representing Nova Scotia.)
Schmirler’s old teammates saw England and the rest of the Saskatchewan rink off to the Island for the junior nationals, and gave them some old-school items for good luck.
“We have the [Schmirler team’s] special cowbell from when they played in Switzerland and their team’s rat mascot that squeaks . . . my mom is here with me, I feel,” said England.
It’s her mom’s genetic imprint that courses through her veins.
“People say I sound like my mom on the ice . . . my dad says there’s a lot of similarities between us when I curl,” said England, who attends the University of Regina.
“She was loud. I’m loud . . . high intensity on the ice. It’s in the family, I guess. My dad curls, my grandma curls . . . it’s who we are as a family. School and curling are my life.”
The hardest thing for the off-spring athletes of famous parent athletes is to forge their own identity. When England was on the team that represented Saskatchewan at the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, all the questions from the media tended to be about her mother.
“[The media] was only talking about her. That was two years ago and it was my first nationals, so I understand why it was so much,” she said.
“Everyone has that expectation of me [because of her mother], but I have curled for 10 years and am used to it by now, so I just kind of block it out and don’t think about it anymore. I’m getting way more comfortable with that. I am her daughter and people say it’s in the blood. I’m not her. I am my own curler. It’s just a sport.”
England knows she can honour her mother at the same time as being her own person.
“It’s hard for her with her mom being brought up all the time, but Sara knows it’s part of being what it is,” said dad Shannon England.
“This [playing on Team Saskatchewan at nationals] is something she has done on her own.”
Sara England describes the experience of being at the junior nationals as “amazing.”
“It was nerve-wracking before I got here. But once the games start, you settle down. Our team sets goals, not expectations. Our goal is to make the playoffs. We always have fun no matter what the outcome.”
There are several other juniors performing at Esquimalt this week also with connections to famous curling parents, including Manitoba skip Laura Burtnyk, daughter of former world and two-time Brier champion Kerry Burtnyk.
On the men’s side of the Canadian junior championships, also taking place at Archie Browning, the J.T. Ryan rink from Manitoba is 4-0 and Tyler Tardi’s B.C. rink is 3-0.
Today’s men’s and women’s draws are at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The nationals run through Sunday, with the men’s and women’s champions advancing to represent Canada at the 2017 world juniors in Pyeongchang, South Korea, host city of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Expect to see the top performers from this week at Archie Browning vying along the road to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
— With files from Mario Annicchiarico