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Dialysis nurse sweeps for gold in Pyeongchang

February 7, 2018

University of Alberta Hospital dialysis nurse Joanne Courtney, right, is joined by her teammates Lisa Weagle, centre, and skip Rachel Homan in competition. The athletes will have Canada cheering for them as they battle to bring home gold in women’s curling at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

‘I get inspired by my patients’ says Team Canada curler Joanne Courtney

Story by Vicki Hall | Photo courtesy of Curling Canada/Andrew Klaver

Perhaps without even knowing it, the patients and staff on the Renal Dialysis Unit at the University of Alberta Hospital are helping Joanne Courtney in her quest for gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Courtney is a registered dialysis nurse and the second for Rachel Homan’s curling foursome representing Canada in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The stakes are high. The spotlight, overwhelming. The pressure, enormous.

“In sport, it’s easy to get a little bit of a one-track mind,” Courtney said before boarding a flight to Korea. “You can feel all that matters are the wins and losses.

“I’ve always looked to my unit to get perspective. I get inspired by my patients and their resilience. They’re bright. They’re enthusiastic. They don’t want to talk about their symptoms. They want to talk about curling and what my team needs to win the next one.”

Courtney is ready to draw on that resilience should Team Canada run up against adversity in Pyeongchang. For while Canadians expect gold from all their curling teams, the rest of the world just might have something to say about that.

“I definitely look to my patients when I feel like I’m getting a little bit too immersed,” she says. “I need to step back and realize there’s a lot more to life, like health and family.

“All the support from my unit is just something I’m very grateful for.”

Courtney, 28, works casual so she can chase her curling dream while logging the required hours maintain her credentials.

In January, her team threw a Team Canada potluck sendoff in her honour.

“I went in right around shift change, so I got to see a lot of people,” she says. “Just the enthusiasm and the energy and the pride — it was all so tangible for me.

“Just to feel that little bit of extra love and support is great to help fuel and motivate me over the next few weeks.”

Upon her return home from winning the world title last spring in Beijing, Courtney attended another party in her honour on the unit.

“Oh, she’s here!”  Courtney heard someone say as she walked in.

She looked up to see about 20 dialysis patients with noisemakers clapping for the world champion in their midst. Some patients even requested to be woken up so they wouldn’t miss the celebration. Others even came in on their day off from dialysis.

“That was so heart-warming,” says Courtney. “They made me take a Canadian flag and do a lap of the unit. It was something else. That touched my heart.”

Is another victory lap in the works for March?

“I sure hope so,” she says. “I’ll be working hard for that.”

Given Courtney’s work ethic and drive, patient navigator Doris Hauser says she’s ready to plan a ‘Welcome Home’ party worthy of an Olympic gold medalist.

“I have no doubt they’re going to win,” Hauser says. “Joanne is part of our renal family, and we’re so proud of her. She is very determined and knows what needs to be done to get the job done — and she’s an amazing nurse.”