Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Schussler hangs up blades

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After three Olympic Games, 22 World Cup medals and four medals from the World Championships, Winnipeg's Brittany Schussler is calling it a career.

The 29-year-old speed skater retired Tuesday after 13 seasons of international competition, fresh off being named Speed Skating Canada's top female long-track skater. She said this had been the plan coming into the season, but the announcement was surprisingly emotional.

"I guess it just seems more real once you tell everyone," she said. "But you know what? Today I've felt great. I have received so many messages and so much support, it really makes me feel good about what I've done with my career."

Schussler competed in the last three Winter Olympics, managing a best finish of fifth place for Canada in the team pursuit in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. She was an alternate in Turin, on hand to witness fellow Winnipegger Cindy Klassen come away with five medals.

She wanted to wait a few months after Sochi to make sure she didn't change her mind, but it did make the experience more special knowing it would likely be her last Olympics.

"My whole family was there for part of it and things were just set up in such a way that I could actually go see them, and see them enjoying the Olympics that they've worked so hard to get to as well," said Schussler, who starting speed skating when she was seven years old. "It was a really nice experience and really different experience I guess from Turin and Vancouver."

Schussler is married to Justin Warsylewics, also a speed skater, and is currently attending the University of Calgary, where she will finish her degree in communications in December. She said leaving speed skating is hard, but in a way it's also very liberating.

"I've spent my life doing this one thing... there's so many opportunities and things to do that I haven't had the chance to experience, but at the same time I love speed skating," she said. "I've made so many great friends and had so many great experiences."

Yeah, Sochi was great, but she said no experience compares to lining up for her first race at the Vancouver Games and feeling the energy and noise of the Canadian crowd, though she admits those weeks weren't great performance-wise. She also noted the hard work that went into earning her first World Cup medal: One medal that eventually turned into 22. Sometimes she thinks it doesn't sink in.

"I had big dreams as a kid -- right from the start -- I knew a wanted to be great," Schussler said. "I don't think I ever really stopped and thought about if it would be possible, I just knew that's what I wanted to do. Whether or not it was a possibility, it didn't even really enter my head. It was, 'these are the steps and this is how you try and get there, and we'll see what happens.' "

kyle.edwards@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2014 D1

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