Sandra Marie Schmirler, curler (born at Biggar, Sask 11 Jun 1963; died at Regina 2 Mar 2000). Sandra Schmirler, dubbed "Schmirler the Curler," was considered by many to be the best female curler in the world in 1998 when she led her foursome to the first ever OLYMPIC gold medal in the sport. Schmirler grew up in Biggar, Sask, interested in and excelling at several sports. She began to take an interest in curling when she, along with her grade 7 class, took part in an introduction to curling course as part of the school's phys-ed program. Her talent and passion for the game was evident early on, and Schmirler began entering provincial competitions as a member of 2 provincial championship teams while still in her teens. Her interest in sport continued into her post-secondary studies and she pursued a degree in Physical Education at the UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN. All the while, Schmirler continued to curl at the provincial level.
Following a disappointing showing at the 1990 provincial championships, Sandra Schmirler formed her own team with what would become one of the most successful partnerships in Canadian curling history - the rink of Schmirler (skip), Jan Betker (third), Marcia Gudereit and Joan McCusker. In all, the team won 6 provincial championships, 3 Canadian championships and 3 world championships in the 1990s. No other Canadian women's team consisting of the same members had accomplished as much, and as the Nagano Olympic Games drew closer, the group vied for and won a spot on Canada's inaugural curling team. At Nagano the team soon established itself as the one to beat, flying through round-robin competition winning 5 out of 6 games. Along with spare Atina Ford, the team ultimately won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in women's curling on 15 Feb 1998, against Denmark. In recognition of their successful partnership, the team was named Team of the Year in 1998 by the Canadian Press and was inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame in 1999. They were also awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the UNIVERSITY OF REGINA.
While regarded as a fierce competitor, Sandra Schmirler was equally regarded as one of the best ambassadors of the sport, and she delighted fans with her devotion to family and friends and the humility with which she accepted her many accolades. Following the birth of her second child in 1999, Schmirler was diagnosed with the cancer to which she would succumb the following year. Despite her illness, she maintained an interest in her sport, commentating at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships weeks before her death. Schmirler was posthumously inducted into CANADA'S SPORTS HALL OF FAME and received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2000. In 2001, the Sandra Schmirler Foundation was created by family and friends as a legacy to Schmirler. With its slogan "Champions Start Small," the foundation collects funds to support neonatal critical care centres nation-wide. In 2009 Schmirler was posthumously awarded the World Curling Freytag Award, honouring exceptional sportsmanship and character in world champion curlers.