From stones to studying: how a young curling champion finds balance in both

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – Truly buying into a core concept can be tricky, even if it is a resolution someone is keen on conquering. For Ethan Sampson, it is all about finding that fine line in his work-life balance. After all, when the 20-year-old isn’t studying for exams or proofreading final papers, he is out practicing his curling craft at the local curling rink. 

Ethan Sampson poses for a photo after the 2021 U.S. Junior Curling National Championship.

Curling isn’t a newfound hobby the North Dakota State University student picked up on the fly, mind you. Instead, the pastime has become a legitimate calling card for the Edmore native. So much that Sampson has even put together a trophy shelf to include the 2021 U.S. Junior Curling National Championship, where Sampson, as a member of Team Casper, took home the gold medal on Aug. 14. With the win, Team Casper will represent the United States in the 2022 World Junior Curling Championships in Jonkoping, Sweden (Mar. 5-12). 

Ethan's love for curling started in 2006, when, as a five-year-old, he found fun from the stones. However, one could argue the Sampson curling tradition started well before Ethan’s time. After all, curling has been an intricate part of the Sampson lifestyle for generations. 

“For our family, curling goes really deep,” Valerie Sampson, Ethan’s mom, said. “[It goes] back to his grandpa, so we joke that it is in the Sampson DNA that you have to curl.” 

However, being a champion has not diminished the regular grind of everyday life. As a crop and weed sciences major, Ethan has found challenges in the classroom that even a fresh sheet of ice would be unable to contemplate. 

As a result, navigating through the usual college electives has only been the tip of the iceberg for Ethan. 

“It is definitely a delicate balance because you want to be able to get all of your homework done and not be stressed about that, but then you also have to go work out almost every day of the week and be practicing almost every day of the week,” Ethan said. “Then, you still want to hang out with friends. So, I have had to go make schedules for myself. OK, I am going to practice at this time. I have class here. This is when I can do homework. Then, just plan out my day from there, just so I can know what I am doing almost at every point in time, just so there is a little less stress.” 

But the work-life balance did not start in college. Instead, the juggling act began in high school, where, as a student at Edmore Public School, Ethan had to stay ahead of the curve in terms of schoolwork and additional athletic activities. 

Even still, the countless road trips to many a venue, including Lake Region Curling Club – Ethan’s home club – nonetheless helped develop character traits. To Valerie, this additionally served as an opportunity for her to connect with her kid. 

“I am a firm believer in saying that a lot of good parenting happens when you are in the van,” Valerie said. “Ethan and I, we joke about it, but we have the most inane conversations when we are in the vehicle together, and Ethan knows that basically no subject is taboo, and because we spend so much time together, we spend a lot of time talking. Every weekend, Ethan used to joke when he got in the vehicle, ‘OK mom, what god-awful subject are you going to bring up this weekend?’ But it is a great way to get to know your kids when you spend so much time with them in a vehicle and in a hotel room.” 

To Valerie, curling has opened up a vast array of connections for Ethan, not to mention memories. Whether within the continental United States or from around the globe, Valerie believes the opportunities for Ethan to branch out and meet new people have provided another avenue for him to grow as an individual. 

“We literally know people from around the world just because of curling,” Valerie said. “I have never known anything different my entire married life, but it is awe-inspiring that just because of this little quirky sport and niche thing. More people in America are learning about it, which is great, but just because of that, we have family across the world…there are not a lot of sports you can say that about.”

As the calendar turns into a brand-new year with many possibilities, it is business as usual for Ethan. Whether practicing or preparing for the next semester, Ethan has continued to build on his balancing skills on and off the ice. 

Team Casper poses for a photo after the 2021 U.S. Junior Curling National Championship.

While Sampson wishes to practice and stay organized more frequently during the 2022 campaign, it revolves around keeping a level head. From working around his assignments, sharpening his curling skills and meshing with his teammates in such a way that helped net him the national champion honor in the first place, Ethan believes it all relates to that delicate work-life balance. 

To Ethan, it all stems back to buying in. 

“The entire team I have, there is not a single person that is from the same state,” Ethan said. “Everybody is scattered all over the United States, and we come together to form a team that has to buy into each other and be good friends just to be able to get to be a national champion.”