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Bernard turns over every rock to find sponsors

Cheryl Bernard has had to make many adjustments since her rink earned a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics last February, perhaps none as significant as seeing her face 10 storeys high on a billboard overlooking Calgary.

"Nobody ever wants to see their nose that big," the skip said of the sign that went up over the Alberta city last month.

Bernard and her team of Susan O'Connor, Carolyn Darbyshire and Cori Morris used four donated billboards around the city to try to secure a sponsor for their team for the current season. Despite being one of the highest-profile teams in the game, the rink found itself without a backer after one pulled out in late summer. That left them scrambling to hunt down someone willing to give the team a few bucks so they could compete on the World Curling Tour.

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Bernard reported that the billboards, which are still up, worked. She received 30 to 40 calls from organizations that she said were all "pretty serious." A local car dealership has signed on and the skip hopes to finalize arrangements with three more national companies in the next few weeks.

With only a couple of exceptions, curlers have never been at the front of the line when it comes to securing high-profile endorsement or sponsorship deals. Despite massive television numbers, the dominance of Canadian players and the good-natured appeal of the everyday curler, it's been a never-ending struggle to get the corporate community on board, even for Olympic medalists.

Sandra Schmirler managed just one small deal after her gold medal in 1998. Brad Gushue's rink fared the same in 2006 with almost no deals despite its Olympic victory.

In many cases, the companies that do align themselves with the top rock-tossers have some connection to the game - the chief executive officer is a curler, or good old Uncle John is the boss. Kevin Martin is an exception with companies such as Uncle Ben's and H&R Block behind his gold-medal-winning team.

Bernard believes that's because most athletes, curlers especially, don't offer anything back.

"You can't just take a cheque and say, 'See you next year,'" she said. "That's not going to work any more, especially in this economy. You have to get involved with their charity or do speaking engagements, something. That's what we've been trying to do."

In addition to hunting down some backers, Bernard has been busy with other activities almost since the ice went out last spring. After saying she'd never do it, she posed for a women of curling charity calendar, now on sale. This is the sixth incarnation of the calendar and in previous years it was rather risqué with lots of skin. This year the shots are more glamorous and inspiring, and the Olympic skip - Ms. February - is shown in a fitness pose.

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Bernard also travelled across the country for speaking engagements and appearances at a variety of events, exhausting herself in the process.

"The one thing all the sports psychologists we had didn't tell us was how to deal with things after the Olympics," she said. "That would have been really helpful. After the Olympics, you don't realize how little you have left in the tank."

The rink is back on the ice competing and has notched one win and a little more than $12,000 so far. Staying motivated after the Games high, Bernard admitted, is something the team is dealing with, especially since every opponent is gunning for them.

"We're trying to not be complacent," said the Calgarian whose rink lost three of four games in an event in Red Deer, Alta., over the weekend. "But I think we're probably still a little burned out."

She predicted that would change, however, as the team starts playing this season in bigger events such as the Canada Cup and TSN Casino Rama Skins game, where she'll face off against Martin.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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