Schmirler, Sandra (1963–2000)

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Schmirler, Sandra (1963–2000)

Canadian member of Olympic curling team. Name variations: (nickname) Schmirler the Curler. Born on June 11, 1963, in Biggar, Saskatchewan; died on March 2, 2000, in Regina, Saskatchewan; daughter of Art Schmirler and Shirley Schmirler; attended school in Biggar, Saskatchewan, and the University of Regina; married Shannon England (a computer systems analyst); children: Sara and Jenna.

Represented high school in sport of curling; was a member of Caledonian Curling Club; made national debut (1987); played in Canadian Mixed championships (1992); won six Saskatchewan Women's championships with Marcia Gudereit, Joan McCusker and Jan Betker; won Scott Tournament of Hearts (1993); won Canadian and world titles (1993, 1994 and 1997); won first full-medal gold in Olympic curling history at Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan (1998); inducted into Canadian Curling Hall of Fame (1999).

Sandra Schmirler was born in 1963 in Biggar, Saskatchewan, where she and her sisters were introduced to the sport of curling by their parents Art and Shirley Schmirler . In 1981, while she was still in high school, Sandra's team won the national high-school championship, launching her athletic career in one of Canada's most popular sports. A gifted sportswoman, Schmirler also excelled at badminton, swimming and volleyball.

After graduating from the University of Regina, Schmirler worked at the South East Leisure Centre in Regina, competing as a member of the Caledonian Curling Club. She made her first appearance on the national scene in 1987, playing third for Kathy Fahlman 's Saskatchewan rink at the Scott Tournament of Hearts, followed by the 1992 Canadian Mixed championships, playing third for skip Brian McCusker.

Known as "Schmirler the Curler," she was to become a dominant force in her sport, credited with raising the standard for all other competitors. "When you played her, you were in awe," said two-time Canadian champion Colleen Jones . "You knew she was better. You knew she was going to win. It was like playing against [Wayne] Gretzky." Schmirler also helped to change the image of curling, long regarded as a second-class sport.

With team members Marcia Gudereit, Joan McCusker and Jan Betker , Schmirler assured the dominance of the Caledonian Curling Club in the 1990s. In 1991, her team won their first of six Saskatchewan women's championships. In 1993, the team won the Scott Tournament of Hearts, and then, representing Canada, went on to win their first World championship in Geneva, Switzerland. They also won the World championship in Oberstdorf, Germany (1994) and in Bern, Switzerland (1997).

Schmirler's next challenge was to ensure that her rink became the first to represent Canada in curling as a full-medal sport at the 1997 Olympics. Her rink faced the toughest field ever assembled in Canadian curling history, fighting to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. In the final trials, just weeks after the birth of her first daughter Sara, Schmirler's team won a 9–6 victory over their Calgary competitors. Competing in Nagano, Schmirler and her rink beat the Danish team 7–5, winning the first full-medal gold in Olympic curling history. Devoted to her family as well as to her sport, Schmirler was tremendously popular in Canada—and particularly in Saskatchewan—receiving a hero's welcome on her return home from the Olympics. Her team was voted the Canadian press team of the year for 1998, and she was inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame in 1999.

Two months after the birth of her second daughter Jenna, and only four months after her father's death from cancer, Schmirler herself was diagnosed with cancer, and she was admitted to Regina General Hospital to undergo emergency surgery. Canadians rallied to support her and help pay her medical expenses. After a final public appearance at the Canadian Junior Curling championships in Moncton, Schmirler died in March 2000 in Regina, Saskatchewan, at age 36. In a statement issued by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, she was described as "an exemplary sports ambassador for Canada," because of her athletic talent, "her bright, engaging personality and her incredible zest for life."


"Sandra Schmirler, 36, Dies," in The New York Times. March 4, 2000, p. B7.

Macleans. March 13, 2000, p. 56; March 17, 2000, p. 13.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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Schmirler, Sandra (1963–2000)

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