USA Curling John Shuster
Curling wasn't a sport John Shuster just woke up one day and decided to pursue.
Instead, the Team USA men's captain/skip and five-time Olympian — who is set to defend their gold during the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing — tells PEOPLE in a chat about the team's newly unveiled Columbia Sportswear uniforms that his father was a member of the curling club in Chisholm, Minnesota, where Shuster grew up watching him play.
"My mom would take us to the curling club and we were bribed with Dr. Pepper, and they had the best popcorn at the concession stand there, and they had a pool table," says Shuster, 39. "So even if we weren't necessarily watching curling, we had stuff to do, and it was interesting to go there."
But as he got older, Shuster "was watching more and more of the game and trying to figure out exactly what was going on out there."
"Part of it," says the athlete, "might have been something you can't have that made it so intriguing because my dad would never let me go on the ice and throw a rock during men's league because that wasn't the place for kids. They had juniors on Sunday, if you wanted to go try to throw a stone."
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USA Curling John Shuster
The self-professed "sports junkie" was also busy playing basketball during the winter season, so he didn't really dip his toes into the world of curling until his preteen years, when he saw a flyer at school for a junior curling program during his sixth-grade year.
"I went and tried it, and I instantly became enamored with delivering the stone, which is the part that all curlers look forward to," Shuster recalls. "Like stepping up to the plate on a baseball team."
Eventually, in December 1997, he took a trip to Duluth to watch the final Olympic trials of the club he would eventually join — and though he expected "to be blown away by the level of curling that was happening out there," what Shuster really saw was opportunity.
"I was like, 'You know what? I don't think that's that much higher of a level than what I'm already doing a year and a half in,' " he says. "And it was in that timeframe that I decided I was going to try to see if I could be a competitive curler moving forward."
"I put an incredible amount of work in throughout high school, and then into college," Shuster continues. "The right things clicked, and I've been blessed with a bunch of really, really great teammates along the way."
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Shuster would eventually go on to appear in four straight Olympic Games beginning in 2006, winning the team bronze that first year and the gold in PyeongChang 12 years later.
Since taking home the gold in 2018, he says his team "has really tried to build off of those things that we felt were important to us being successful there, and continue that moving forward."
"And some of those things are going out there on the ice and really letting ourselves off the hook for missed shots and those kind of things," Shuster says. "Viewers can watch our team and see how well we communicate, and how open and honest we are, but hopefully also how encouraging."
Of what he considers the most misunderstood aspect of curling, the seven-time national champ tells PEOPLE that keeping the team positions straight is something he has noticed viewers struggle with — but that's changing.
"People always ask, 'Are you the guy who throws the rock? Are you one of those guys who sweeps, or the guy who does the yelling?' And I think that's one of those deals where, now that we're getting better coverage at the Olympics and between the Olympics, people realize that everybody does a little bit of everything on the team," Shuster says.
Columbia Sportswear Olympic uniforms of the USA Curling National Team
As he prepares to head to Beijing for his fifth Olympic Games next month, Shuster is "ecstatic" about the newly unveiled uniforms, designed for Team USA by Columbia Sportswear.
"The customized jerseys, jackets, pants and accessories were developed specifically for the unique needs of the athletes," a press release reads. "Technical elements include 4-way stretch fabrics to optimize mobility, abrasion-resistant materials and the brand's proprietary Omni-Wick™ technology for accelerated moisture evaporation."
Shuster tells PEOPLE of the "incredible" design, "I was actually involved almost from the beginning, letting them know the things that were important to us when we're on the field of play in our uniforms. We've had plenty of people in the past we've worked with that try to get us in what they want us in as opposed to something that's going to be the best for our performance. And honestly, that hasn't been the case here at all."
"And there's a lot of symbolism, I know, on those jerseys," he adds. "I'm so excited to get on the ice and be wearing all of this here in a few weeks."