Brady Clark, a Lynnwood resident, leads his Seattle-based team into U.S. Curling National Championships hoping to keep their 2018 Olympic dreams alive

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Colin Hufman is sick of finishing in third place.

At age 32 – still relatively young in the curling world — Hufman has already been in three U.S. Olympic Team Trials and 13 U.S. Curling National Championships.

He’s finished third six times and second twice at nationals. He was also on teams that won bronze at the 2006 Olympic trials and silver at the 2010 Olympic trials.

Unfortunately, in curling, only one team gets that coveted bid to the Olympic Games. So, time and time again, Hufman has come painfully close to the pinnacle of achievement in his sport, only to fall just short.

“It’s to the point where I’d rather win it or not be in it,” Hufman said. “I’ve got more bronze medals than I’d like to admit, and most of them, I don’t even keep anymore. I’ll just give them to kids in the stands. It wears on you.”

Gold is the goal this week at the 2017 U.S.A Curling National Championships that begin Saturday at the Xfinty Arena in Everett. Hufman and the other three members of Seattle-based Team Brady Clark are hoping to defend the national title they won last year.

Clark, the skip – or captain – led the team to the 2016 championship in Jacksonville, Fla., and his team needs to repeat as national champions and qualify for World Championships in April if they want position themselves for a spot at U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb. this November.

Clark, a Lynnwood resident, hasn’t had quite as many perplexing near-misses as his younger teammate. He’s been a dominant player at the national level for the last two decades, owns 16 national curling titles, and has won 16 of the 17 national finals he’s competed in.

But, like Hufman, Clark also has never been to an Olympic Games, and with next year’s Pyeong Chang Winter Olympics looming in the not-so-distant future, November’s Olympic trials might be his final shot becoming an Olympian.

At age 39, with a five-year-old son, Clark doesn’t know if he’ll continue curling at the international level beyond 2018.

“As my son is getting older and will have more activities, I’ll have to take a real serious look after this cycle to decide if I can put in the level of commitment in the sport to make the next four-year cycle,” Clark said. “I know I’m good enough to get to the Olympics. It’s just, I’m recognizing that this could be my last run, and I have to put everything possible into this cycle that I could.”

So Clark, Hufman, vice-skip Greg Persinger and lead curler Philip Tilker are investing every ounce of effort into what remains of this Olympic quad in hope of making their first Olympic Games.

All four men juggle full-time jobs along with their curling careers. Clark and Tilker are based in Seattle and train at the Granite Curling Club in Haller Lake. Hufman, a UW-Bothell graduate, moved from Seattle to Minneapolis for a new job last July, and Persinger is based in Alaska, but the team has still managed to coordinate schedules enough to play a full slate of 12 to 14 competitions this season.

Not living in the same city can be tricky.

“It’s not ideal,” Hufman said. “But we’ve all played the game so much and we’re so consistent at what we do that it’s such small adjustments we’re making. A lot of the teams in the U.S. don’t live in the same city and don’t ever practice together. That’s part of the reason we play so many tournaments during the year.”

Sometimes described as “chess on ice,” the mental strategy side of curling is significant as players try to throw their rocks closest to the target at the opposite end of the ice while out-maneuvering their opponents’ rocks. The skip determines his team’s strategy, and all four team members take turns throwing rocks, with the three non-throwing members taking turns sweeping the ice to help the rocks travel farther.

Sweeping throughout the entire game can be quite the workout, Hufman said.

“Guys who play front, lead and second and sweeping six rocks end-to-end, so you have to be able to go 100 percent for 30 seconds, 60 times per game,” Hufman said. “It’s like being on a rowing machine and going as hard as you can for 30 second intervals. You have to try to keep that capacity as good on the 60th time as it was the first time because, often, the last rock is what wins the game. You don’t want to have nothing left in your gas tank.”