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Love of curling leads to Olympics: Willmar couple officiate curling at Winter Olympics

WILLMAR -- When Randy and Susie Czarnetzki tied the knot, it was on a curling sheet, with their wedding rings delivered on a pair of stones sliding down the aisle of ice.

Erica Dischino / TribuneRandy, left, and Susie Czarnetzki pose for a photo Feb. 2 at the Willmar Civic Center while holding the olympic and paralympic mascots. They are serving as curling officials at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Erica Dischino / Tribune Randy, left, and Susie Czarnetzki pose for a photo Feb. 2 at the Willmar Civic Center while holding the olympic and paralympic mascots. They are serving as curling officials at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

WILLMAR - When Randy and Susie Czarnetzki tied the knot, it was on a curling sheet, with their wedding rings delivered on a pair of stones sliding down the aisle of ice.

Six years later, curling is once again drawing together the Czarnetzkis and rings - but this time, the number of rings is five, and they are located in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

As action in the XXIII Winter Olympics launched this week across the Pacific Ocean, the Willmar couple is overseeing the curling competition as the only two curling officials from the United States at the games.

In a relatively short span of time, curling has taken the Czarnetzkis all over the world - from Switzerland, to Sweden, to Russia and more - but no stop has had the same luster as the Olympics.

"It's crazy to think that we'll be working the Olympics and be on the world's biggest curling stage," Susie Czarnetzki said last week during an interview with the couple. "It's been an awesome gig. We've been able to visit a lot of places in a short amount of time because of curling, but this is special."

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In many ways, it was curling that brought the Czarnetzkis together.

Most athletes at the Olympics have been training their whole lives to reach the stage at Pyeongchang. That's not the case for the Czarnetzkis.

Neither of the pair had so much as picked up a curling broom until 2004. That year Randy Czarnetzki moved to Willmar and opened the Hardware Hank Express store in downtown Willmar, which the family closed in July 2016.

Their start on the ice

On his first night on the ice, his curling broom went over the stone, resulting in a couple of cracked ribs and a black eye.

"It was a memorable start, for sure," Randy said during the interview last week. "For some reason, I kept coming back."

Within a few years, Susie became one of those reasons.

Before they started dating in 2007, Randy invited Susie to join him for a night of curling at the Willmar Civic Center.

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"I never wanted to curl," Susie said. "I went that first night just to take pictures. I was wearing jeans. I had no intention to ever do this."

But when the lead on Randy's team didn't show up, it promptly threw a wrinkle in Susie's plans.

"He comes over to me and says, 'You've got to curl for me. You've got to curl for me,'" she recalled.

She obliged. Soon enough, Randy was asking Susie to curl with him whenever she was available.

"He ended asking me to curl with him any time I was free," Susie said. "The first year, to be honest, I didn't like it. I was horrible. With the help of some lessons, though, I eventually felt much more comfortable."

Randy, a longtime college and high school sports official, caught wind of a course on curling officiating in Duluth in 2010. Their decision to simply try it out would eventually lead them all over the world.

"I didn't really think I would be interested in it at all," Susie said. "I was just thinking that I could use it as an excuse to get away, relax, go to the spa and things like that with some curling in between."

As anyone who curls will tell you is prone to happen, the sport had a mind of its own.

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"To my surprise I really liked the class. I really liked the discussion," she said. "The teacher really took a shine to Randy and his ability, so I kind of agreed to keep going on this journey."

Rapid rise

In a matter of months, the Czarnetzkis were officiating the senior and mixed doubles in Fargo, North Dakota. Two months after that, they were in St. Paul to work the mixed doubles world championships.

"There, we got to know the World Curling Federation people in just our third event," Randy said.

Contacts made there led to an invitation about a year later to work in Flims, Switzerland.

Working on an international level was like seeing a whole new side of the curling officiating world for the Czarnetzkis.

"Working in Fargo and Duluth is great, but not quite as awesome as going to Switzerland with all expenses paid," Susie said. "All arrangements were already made for us. All we had to do is show up, get on a plane and pack a bag, and a five-star hotel awaited us."

The Czarnetzkis were rapidly ascending the ranks in the curling officiating world, but still had never even considered the thought of working the Olympics. That all changed with one email.

"We met all these people associated with the Olympics at a tournament in Karlstad, Sweden, and just thought, 'Oh, cool, these are some high-up people,'" Susie said.

"We get home from Sweden and the day after, I'm sitting at my desk and this email pops up," Randy said. "I figured it was just a thank you note or something like that.

"Nope - it was the invitation to work the Olympics."

At the Olympics

Susie Czarnetzki, a pharmacy technician for ACMC Health in Willmar, is serving as an international technical official on the ice throughout play, which began before the opening ceremonies and continues until the final day of the Olympics, making it the only sport to have competition on every day of the games.

Randy Czarnetzki was designated to serve as the chief statistician, working from above the ice to provide live information for fans and live television viewers.

"I'm up in the rafters, so I've either gotten a promotion or I've been sent up to exile," he joked.

Curling officiating is much different than what fans are used to seeing in sports such as football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Because curling is largely a self-regulated sport in which players are required to call penalties on themselves, it's not as common for officials to interject themselves in play.

"As officials, we're really facilitating the event in many ways," Susie Czarnetzki said.

As for officiating on the biggest stage in curling, the Czarnetzkis say that nerves won't get to them.

"That's for the players to worry about," Susie said. "We're just there to watch the stones come down the ice."

Related Topics: CURLING
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