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Minnesotans ready to roll in curling competition

Here's a look at the curling layout at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Gangneung Curling Centre. James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn.—Tabitha Peterson didn't have Olympic dreams when she rode in the car from her Eagan home to the St. Paul Curling Club on Saturday mornings about 20 years ago.

When Peterson started curling at age 10, she was more interested in the postgame snacks, mainly those warm barbecue smokies in the slow cooker.

On Wednesday, Peterson will fill another hunger by making her Winter Olympics debut with the U.S women's curling team in Pyeongchang, South Korea. About 15 friends and family members will be part of her cheering section, all decked out in red, white and blue gear.

"It's just amazing for her to be an Olympian," said older brother Trent, one of her rides to the curling club. "For many people, it's often a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but with curling, it's a lifetime sport and maybe this will be the first of many, I hope."

Peterson, 29, was close to this Olympics being her second appearance. During the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for the Sochi Games, Peterson's veteran team lost 8-7, with a final stone clinching the defeat.

Stuck at home four years ago, Peterson watched more of the U.S. men's curling team in the Olympics than the women's squad "because it was hard to watch the team that beat you compete," she said. "Totally understandable."

Peterson, who now lives in Minneapolis, was working on the pharmacy degree she earned from the University of Minnesota in 2015 and set out to reach the heights of her sport. She now works in varying CVS pharmacies inside Target stores and takes time off to focus on her passion.

"It definitely lit a flame under by butt, for sure," Peterson said. "I think I probably had maybe a different reaction to losing in the Olympic Trials. The three girls (on her team) had been to the Olympics before, while I hadn't. ... I don't really know what I was missing because I had never been there before, but I was devastated."

Peterson applied to be a part of USA Curling's High Performance Program, a nascent structure set out to regiment training and performance. "Instead of self-forming teams and self regulation, they decided to come up with this (program), so athletes had to apply and go through a combine and get selected, and basically they choose teams for you," she said. "So, I got put in that mix."

Peterson's team is led by skip Nina Roth, of McFarland, Wis., and includes Aileen Geving and Cory Christensen, both of Duluth, and Beck Hamilton, of McFarland. The men's team is led by John Shuster of Chisholm, Minn., with Matt Hamilton of McFarland and Tyler George, John Landsteiner and Joe Polo of Duluth.

As the vice-skip, or "third" on the team, Peterson must be the conduit between the other players and the skip.

"She is very calm," Trent explained. "When needed, she can get her point across very succinctly. ... 'You have to do this or that instead.' You can't (upset the skip) because they are the boss. She has some lines to tiptoe around."

Coach Al Hackner, a two-time world champion curler, will be guiding a women's team all making their Olympic debuts.

"That will definitely help us as a team," Peterson said.

Peterson has heard there will be distractions in South Korea, and that the experience will be unlike no other.

"I keep hearing that, so it's hard to prepare for something that you've never experienced before," she said. "How do I do my visualization and stuff like that? That's what our sports psychologist has worked with us on over the last four years, too. You do the best you can in preparation."