The buzz in the Meadows School gym was palpable as students erupted when Olympic curler Kaitlyn Lawes walked through the door.
The pint-sized powerhouse curler could have passed as a student when she walked in, if not for one important distinction — the shiny gold medal dangling from her neck.
"It’s been a whirlwind pretty much since we won the Olympic trials in December," Lawes said.
From talk shows to NHL games, Lawes — who plays third with skip Jennifer Jones, second Jill Officer, formerly of Brandon, and lead Dawn McEwen — has zig-zagged the country sharing her Olympic story.
"It’s been an amazing ride and it’s so fun to see everyone’s reaction to the Olympics," Lawes said. "I hope I can inspire one person to go after their dreams and that’s cool to be a part of."
Eleven-year-old Shane Smith is one of those young athletes. Smith brought his Brandon Curling Club gold medal to the gym, asking Lawes if she wanted to trade.
"It’s really neat to see Kaitlyn," he said. "I’ve seen her on TV a lot, so I was so excited to hear that she was coming."
Smith, who is also a third for his club championship team, got a picture with Lawes and the gold medal, adding that his mom would be so jealous.
Team Jones defeated Sweden in the final at the Sochi Olympics last month. One of the unique benefits of being a curler at the two-week competition is they are there from the opening ceremonies until the closing ceremonies. Many athletes are only at the games for either the first or second week of the Games.
"We got to meet all of the other athletes and it was neat to hear their stories and to talk to them about their sports," Lawes said. "It’s all about being part of that Olympic family. We weren’t just teammates or people in passing. We became a family and we really motivated each other."
While she has been sharing the medal with an entire country, Lawes said her family, who supported her from a young age and started her in the sport when she was just five years old, owns a piece of it, too.
"My family has been through all of the wins and all of the heartbreaking losses and to be able to share that with them and to see it all come together at the Olympics was very emotional," Lawes said.
The curling world is entering a fascinating off-season, with rumours swirling that many of the country’s best teams could break up.
Lawes said while there has been no formal decision, she expects the current Team Jones to be competing together next year and beyond.
"I would be surprised if we weren’t together," Lawes said.
Just 25 years old, she hopes the Olympic medal dangling around her neck will have company in the future, but for now it’s about enjoying the moment she has poured two decades of hard work into to achieve.
"This is so special and it’s about staying in the present," Lawes said.
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed