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Decorated curling Scot Kelly Schafer to wear Maple Leaf at world mixed championship

Kelly Schafer, shown in a recent handout photo at the Canadian mixed curling championship in Swift Current, Sask., is now on the other side of curling's intense rivalry between Canada and Scotland. A regular podium contender for the Scots for two decades, Schafer will represent Canada for the first time at the 2024 world mixed curling championship in Aberdeen, Scotland. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Curling Canada-Jenny Hagan**MANDATORY CREDIT**

Kelly Schafer is now on the other side of curling's intense rivalry between Canada and Scotland.

A regular podium contender for the Scots for two decades, Schafer will represent Canada for the first time at the 2024 world mixed curling championship in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Shaun Meachem, Schafer and Chris and Teejay Haichert won the Canadian mixed title earlier this month in Swift Current, Sask.

So Schafer will represent Canada for the first time just 65 kilometres from her Scottish hometown of Montrose.

"It's pretty ironic if you think about all the permutations that could have happened," Schafer told The Canadian Press. "The times we could have won and didn't win and now we have.

"The fact that it's really close to my hometown and a couple of my old teammates are from there, it's really familiar territory." 

Schafer skipped Scotland to bronze at the 2007 women's world championship in Harbin, Japan. She's played for Britain in three Olympic Games and for Scotland in seven world championships.

Wearing the Maple Leaf in international curling has caused a stir among her siblings, friends and former coaches in Scotland.

"One of my old national coaches has said 'I can't believe that you'll be wearing a Maple Leaf on your back. I'll make this exception once that I will cheer for a Canadian team,' because there's usually such a rivalry between Scotland and Canada" Schafer said. 

The 2024 world championship is Oct. 12-19, 2024 at the Curl Aberdeen facility.

Kelly Schafer was Kelly Wood when she threw third stones for Scotland's Eve Muirhead at the 2010 women's world curling championship in Swift Current.

Not only did the Scots win the silver medal there, but their vice met Jerrod Schafer, who was the city's mayor then. 

Kelly Wood became Kelly Schafer in 2013 and the couple have a son Darby, who is now nine.

The 42-year-old Schafer works as safe places manager for Swift Current. Her husband, who was mayor from 2009 to 2016, is a wealth management adviser.

Schafer continued to represent the Scots internationally after relocation to Canada. She was Muirhead's alternate in the 2017 world championship and 2018 Olympic Games.

Schafer could initially curl on mixed teams in Canada and compete in the 2014 national championship because there wasn't world mixed championship then. 

When the first world championship was played in 2015, Schafer needed Canadian citizenship to compete in both women's and mixed team provincial championships.

After obtaining citizenship in 2019, Schafer curled mixed with her Swift Current teammates and reached the national championship twice before this year's victory.

She once considered herself semi-retired from women's curling. The time and travel needed to play and practice with women from other parts of the province didn't mesh well with work and motherhood.

But Schafer received a call late last year to play vice for Robyn Silvernagle, who cobbled together a last-minute team for Saskatchewan's playdowns.

Silvernagle won the province, which put Schafer in February's Scotties Tournament of Hearts. 

Silvernagle didn't advance beyond the preliminary stage in Kamloops, B.C., but she and Schafer continue to curl together this season along with front-end Chaelynn Kitz and Kara Thevenot.

Canadian teams have stood on the last five podiums at the world mixed championship. Jean-Michel Menard (2022), Colin Kurz (2019) and Michael Anderson (2018) were gold medallists.

Schafer says the realization she's curling for Canada will sink in when she gets her team kit and when Scottish fans aren't cheering for her in Aberdeen.

"We want to win and give our best performance, whoever that's for," she said. "For me, it's more about the curling and the focus on playing your best game and bringing that together with the team and performing. 

"I guess, secondary, would be who it is you are representing. I'm pretty lucky to have the opportunity to do that for both countries. I'm pretty proud of that piece.

"It would be probably not as weird in a different country representing Canada, but now that it is going back to Scotland, there'll be a whole host of other things to think about."

And if Canada faces Scotland for the gold medal in the 2024 world mixed curling championship?

"That would be fun," Schafer said. "That would be like a good fairytale ending."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov, 30, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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