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Chicago Olympian Ann Swisshelm Has Fans in West Town Neighbors

By Quinn Ford | February 9, 2014 8:47am
 Chicago boasts three Olympians competing in the Sochi Games: curler Ann Swisshelm, speed skater Shani Davis and bobsledder Aja Evans.
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WEST TOWN — When it comes to the Winter Olympic Games, Liz Walkington says she is definitely a curling fan.

"Four years ago during the [Vancouver] Olympics, it was my favorite sport," Walkington said. "I got into it. It's a lot of fun to watch."

And if Walkington, 30, happens to catch the U.S. Women's team take on Switzerland at 4 a.m. Monday morning, she might see a familiar face.

That's because she lives in the same River West complex as U.S. Olympian Ann Swisshelm.

Walkington, like some of her neighbors, had one word for that: "crazy."

"I literally had no idea," she said. "I might recognize her if I saw her, but I would have never known that she was going to the Olympics to represent our country."

It won't be Swisshelm's first trip to the Winter Games either; she competed in the 2002 Salt Lake City games, where her team finished fourth.

Swisshelm, who grew up in suburban Northbrook, began curling at the age of 10. Nancy Swisshelm, Swisshelm's mother, said her daughter was always a "fantastic athlete."

"In high school she was on five different varsity sports teams," Swisshelm said. "And none of that included curling by the way."

After graduating from Glenbrook North High School, Swisshelm attended Drake University where she studied theater and fine arts.

At 45, Swisshelm is the oldest member of the U.S. Olympics team. After placing fourth in Salt Lake City twelve years ago, Swisshelm's team failed to qualify for the games in 2006 and 2010, but the Chicagoan is no stranger to winning.

Swisshelm's team won gold at the 2003 World Championships and has also been to 19 national championships, winning four times.

As she packed to make a 26-hour journey to Sochi on Saturday, Nancy Swisshelm said she and her husband have been all over the world — from Japan to Canada to Europe — to root for their daughter.

"As a parent, you're just so proud," her mother said. "We spend a lot of time traveling and watching and hoping and helping where ever we can. That's what parents of an Olympian do."

Swisshelm and her teammates — Erika Brown, Debbie McCormick and Jessica Schultz — will take on Switzerland and Russia Monday. A complete schedule for the U.S. women's curling team can be found here.

Back in Chicago, Walkington said 4 a.m. Monday may be a little too early for her to catch her neighbor compete but said she will definitely be following the team throughout the games.

"It's pretty amazing," she said. "There's these amazing athletes in our society that we don't even know about and they represent our country."

Two other Chicagoans are looking to bring home medals: speedskater Shani Davis, 31, is competing in his third Games, and is a favorite to repeat as a Gold Medal-winner in the 1,000 meter race. And Aja Evans, 25, will compete on the U.S. bobsled team.