Exercise and Sport Science partners with USA Curling
Curling made its Olympic debut at the 1924 Winter Games, but the sport wasn’t recognized as official medal sport until 1998. Interest in the science behind the game’s strategy has been gaining momentum in recent years, but there’s still a large gap in research on performance. A budding partnership between the USA Curling team and St. Catherine University’s Exercise and Sport Science program aims to change that.
“USA Curling recently designated Blaine as their training site and Scott Riewald, the director of high performance for the United States Olympic Committee, reached out to us,” says Mark Blegen, associate professor and chair of Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.
During the mid 1990s, Blegen and Riewald had both worked for the USOC but their paths never crossed. Through what Blegen calls a “serendipitous” series of events, the two recently became acquainted, connected with Derek Brown, director of high performance for USA Curling, and developed a plan to work with the curling teams.
“I thought working with USA Curling would be a fun opportunity to bring a little bit of the Olympics to St. Kate’s and to our students,” says Blegen, who assembled an initial team from the Exercise and Sport Science program including two other faculty, Joshua Guggenheimer and Holly Willis, and two pre-Physical Therapy students, Katie Lenglet and Megan Schmid.
The USA Curling Women’s team came on campus for blood work to establish the player’s micronutrient levels. Afterwards, Willis gave a nutrition talk on eating for performance. Blegen, Guggenheimer and the students traveled to Blaine to gather data with the men’s team during their January qualifying competition.
“We looked at heart rate throughout the competition to see how it differs through the different phases of the game,” explains Guggenheimer. “They do a lot of standing, but then there are times when they’re highly active. We want to look at describing that pattern — how the heart rate changes from throwing to sweeping to standing.”
Lenglet was grateful for the real-world opportunity to participate in emerging research.
“Being involved with this project was incredible,” she says. “There’s heart rate data on everything from track and field to soccer players, but there’s not necessarily a lot of information on physiological aspects of curling.”
For Schmid, the experience provided an opportunity to bond with faculty and another pre-PT student, but the highlight of the day by far was working with St. Kate’s Polar Team2 software.
“It’s unlike any heart rate monitors I’ve ever seen. You can pull up the heart rate of everyone on the team at the same time and see how it changes with different activity,” says Schmid. “I want to take that experience with the software and see how I may implement it in the future, whether in my own scholarly activities or in my future profession as a physical therapist.”
Partnerships like these with USA Curling, which provide opportunities for student fieldwork and research, are a priority for programs like Exercise and Sport Science in the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health.
“It’s good exposure. It’s relationship building. This is part of what St. Kate’s does well and that’s thinking outside the box — thinking outside the classroom,” says Guggenheimer. “Learning how to interact with elite athletes and conduct yourself in a professional manner is critical for our students. You can talk about it in a classroom, but unless you’re out there doing it, you really can’t hone those skills.”
The blood taken during the women’s team visit was analyzed and sent to the coaches, who reported back to the athletes and the USOC.
Blegen and Guggenheimer are analyzing the heart rate data captured at the qualifier event, and are working on graphing the results so that coaches can see what’s going on during the competition. The two hope this is just the beginning of the partnership with USA Curling.
“The opportunity for our students to work with Olympic caliber athletes is exciting, and the potential for student-led research projects is tremendous,” says Blegen.