Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Looking for Jones? Look for a crowd

Curler's fans everywhere, and they all want to talk

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Jennifer Jones went shopping at St. Vital Centre on Saturday. Or at least she tried.

"I was there with my mom and (daughter) Isabella and every moment, every five steps I'd take, there'd be someone who wanted to take a picture. And my mom just said, 'Jennifer, I had no idea you took so many pictures,' " Jones recalled on Monday.

"It's definitely challenging to go places. But that's just the way it is for us now. We meet all these people who are so excited to meet us and it's amazing and fantastic. The only problem is if you're running late for something or in a hurry.

"But I've just come to realize that I will just be late for things from now on because everything seems to take longer."

Now, it's hardly a new phenomenon Jones is getting noticed in public. With all the time the veteran skip has spent curling on television over the years, you could probably safely argue Jones was already the single most identifiable athlete in Winnipeg even before she won gold in Sochi.

Sure, people recognize Evander Kane or Buck Pierce on the street. But not all the time and not every single person -- old, young, men, women -- as with Jones.

'I love hearing from people and how excited they are for us. I want to hear that and I want to experience that with them. Because we worked a decade to get this. And all these people cheering for us were along for that ride too. So they're just really excited that we actually did it'

-- Jennifer Jones

But while it was already crazy before, Jones says the level of recognition she is experiencing since her Winnipeg foursome took down gold in women's curling at the 2014 Winter Olympics has become, quite literally, life altering.

"Planes are crazy now," Jones said Monday. "I was on a plane last week (coming back from a corporate speaking engagement in Costa Rica) and I think I got my picture taken with every single person in first class.

"It's just so busy right now. And it's so hard to go out in public that if I'm getting together with friends now, I usually just go over to their homes."

Now, while Jones confesses there are times when she'd just like to enjoy an anonymous errand run -- or an uninterrupted dinner at a restaurant -- just like the rest of us, she insists she is nothing but grateful for all the enthusiasm.

"It's not a problem because we love it so much," she said. "I love hearing from people and how excited they are for us. I want to hear that and I want to experience that with them.

"Because we worked a decade to get this. And all these people cheering for us were along for that ride too. So they're just really excited that we actually did it."

Jones spoke to the Free Press while driving home from Lorette, where she spoke to a couple of classes Moday morning. Speaking to classes and groups is something Jones and her team -- third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen -- have been doing steadily since they returned from Sochi.

Usually, like Monday, it's something the women do for free -- showing up somewhere, telling the story and then posing for pictures and letting everyone handle their gold medals. (The universal reaction seems to be the medal is much heavier than people expected).

But there's also been some paid gigs since they got back from Sochi, too -- and that's something new. Last week, for instance, a Canadian-based company flew Jones and partner Brent Laing to Costa Rica for a conference.

"I spoke at the conference and went to a couple of dinners and it was a lot of fun," said Jones. "I spoke first thing in the morning and the room was packed. It was like no one wanted to miss it and that made me feel great. It made me realize how excited people are, even now."

But while there are financial opportunities now that Jones and her teammates didn't have before, it doesn't sound as though the team is exactly parlaying gold into riches.

They've hired an agent just in the last week or so and Jones says there's some talk about maybe doing another commercial or two. The team's existing sponsors have also lined up to recommit for another run.

Aside from that -- and those occasional speaking gigs -- life as an amateur curler is still pretty much amateur, says Jones. "We're doing what we can as the opportunities come up," says Jones. "But we haven't really tried to do anything different, to be honest. We're just trying to be as public as we can and get out there and hopefully maybe that will mean some things in the future."

And in the meantime? Well, Jones says it's time to get back to the real world. Her maternity and Olympics leave is over and she said she'll soon be back at work as a lawyer for National Bank, based out of Winnipeg.

Her team will return, intact, to the curling ice this fall. Life will be the same, she said. But also different.

"You have this dream to go the Olympics and then you go and come back and realize it's forever going to be a part of your life," she said. "You realize the impact you had on Canada when you first come back. And then you realize the impact Canada has had on you.

"This gold medal has changed my life forever."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2014 D2

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