A Means to an End
The sport of curling never really drew the interest of Stephanie Sambor growing up. Although her parents, Ken and Barb Sambor were curlers in her hometown of Bismarck, North Dakota, Steph preferred to spend her time participating in more popular sports like volleyball, soccer and basketball.
That was until her senior year in high school when her father asked her to be on a team in the North Dakota State Junior Championships just for fun and to help North Dakota qualify more teams at the national tournament. The experience was the start of a curling love affair for the next three years, including winning gold at a the USA Junior Women’s Curling Championship, being named to the All-Star team and participating in the Junior World Curling Championships.
“Curling has ended up being one of the greatest opportunities in my life,” Sambor said.
Sambor continued to compete and practice hard until she started UND’s Physical Therapy (PT) program last fall. She decided to take a break from curling to focus on being a serious graduate student.
Then the phone rang.
The chance of a lifetime
“A girl I had played against in a previous national tournament wanted me to be on a team with her to compete to represent the USA at the World University Games,” she said. “The problem was that if we won, I would miss two weeks of the second semester to attend the event and I just didn’t know if I could do it.”
The PT department often needs to make adjustments for their students’ sports competitions as many of them still are eligible to compete when they start the program.
When Sambor approached Assistant Professor Sue Jeno, PT, Ph.D. (Anatomy ‘99), about being gone for two weeks to compete in the tournament, Jeno didn’t hesitate and encouraged her to pursue qualifying for the event.
After talking with Jeno, Sambor decided to join the team, which won the USA Women’s National Collegiate Championship, earning the right to represent the United States in the World University Winter Games in Turin, Italy in January.
The World University Games, which are second only to the Olympics in size as a winter sporting event, included athletes from 52 countries including Russia, China, Sweden, Switzerland, Korea, Great Britain and the Czech Republic competing in 11 different winter sports.
“It really gives you a sense of pride to be representing the United States at an international event,” said Sambor. “You are not just an anonymous tourist, you are wearing the USA flag on your back. It is really a maturing experience.”
Sambor’s team stayed at Olympic Village in Torino and curled just 45 minutes away in Pinerolo. Although surrounded by the beauty of Italy, there was limited time for sightseeing. The women spent six straight days curling, sometimes two games a day.
“It was some pretty intense and exciting curling,” Sambor said.
In the end her team finished fifth overall, while the men won the gold.
“We went to play hard, to represent our country well, and to win if we could, but in the end, it is the experience on and off the ice that you remember,” she said. “The friends you meet from all over the world, family there to support you, the bond of teammates and coaches…all contribute to some of the most meaningful parts to me.”
Well worth it
In the weeks following her return from the games, Sambor had a lot of catching up to do, exams to make up and jet lag to overcome, but in the end there’s no doubt that it was worth it.
“The support that I got from everyone in the PT Department was fantastic,” said a relieved Sambor. “It makes the experience even better to know that your professors understand and support you.”
“It is very exciting that Stephanie got to compete on the international stage with Olympic players,” said Jeno, who kept close tabs on Team USA’s progress through their Web site. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her and we were proud to support her.”
“In a couple of years, the games aren’t the only thing I will remember,” Sambor agreed. “It’s all about the overall experience.”
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