Alumnus proves the distance between a dream and reality is action

Headshot of Colin Hufman
Colin Hufman, STEM alumnus ’16

Colin Hufman ’16 began dreaming of going to the Olympics when he was 14 years old, after seeing curlers compete in the 1998 Winter Games. This was the first time curling — a sport played on ice where two teams take turns sliding stones made of granite toward a target — had been a medal sport since 1924.

This was a game his family had played for generations, and growing up in Alaska, Hufman had played since the time he could walk.

“I was sitting in the living room watching the Games with my family, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be cool to play at the Olympics one day?’” he said. “It quickly became my dream — and I chased it for more than 20 years.”

Intersecting interests

During the decades-long pursuit of making it to the Olympics, Hufman attended the University of Washington Bothell. When he wasn’t practicing curling, he was attending classes as a student in the first cohort of the Mechanical Engineering program which started in 2014.

“I loved it and am so grateful I was one of the first to experience the program. That’s actually what drew me to it,” he said. “Having the chance to mold the curriculum excited me, and it was great because that wasn’t just accepted, it was encouraged by my professors. I had professors who thanked me for being in their classes — it was amazing.”

Dr. Pierre Mourad, professor in the School of STEM, said Hufman was instrumental in the development of the program. “Colin was a natural leader in his cohort, demonstrated by both his academic seriousness and his support for his peers,” he said. “I could always count on his dry wit to enliven a class while simultaneously informing it.”

Hufman was drawn to mechanical engineering for the same reason he was drawn to curling: he enjoys solving problems. “I know at least six other Olympic curlers who work in this field. It can’t be a coincidence,” he said. “I think it’s because the sport requires a lot of problem solving. The ice conditions are always different, and so is the way you throw the rock.

“Figuring out how to adapt based on the varying conditions requires similar problem solving skills to that of mechanical engineering.”

The pursuit of a dream

Hufman had been practicing these problem-solving skills long before coming to the University. In fact, he first realized he had a talent for it when he was only 10 years old. He was competing in a curling tournament in his hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska, which boasted the largest cash prize in the country. In addition to normal, four-person curling, the tournament hosted an event called hot shots in which players square off as individuals in a shooting skills competition.

He signed up, paying the entry with his dad’s money, and made it all the way to the finals — competing against, and beating, participants who had been curling for longer than Hufman had been alive. “I was the youngest by at least a decade, probably two,” he said. “I had always wanted to get good at curling, but this experience made me realized I already was.”

After his first real taste of success, Hufman was hooked. He stuck with it, winning the United States Junior Curling Championship in 2002. By 2005, he was competing at the men’s level for a chance to go to the Olympic Games in 2006.

And that chance came, with Hufman earning a spot on Team Clark.

When hard work pays off

Team Clark dominated at the 2006 pre-Olympic trials with an undefeated record and qualified for the playoffs. Unfortunately, the team came up short, losing in the semifinal round. “We were absolutely dominating the game, but the other team’s skip (the player who throws the last rocks) was hot. He was able to make one more shot than our skip, and that was the difference,” Hufman said.

The close call stung, but it also fueled Hufman. Determined to make his dream come true, he kept up the hard work and competed in the United States Curling National Championship, which hosts the best men’s and women’s teams from across the country to compete for titles and a chance to play at the World Curling Championship. There, teams can receive Olympic qualification points and, hopefully, earn a spot at the Olympic trials.

Over the course of 15 years, Hufman won 12 national championship medals and competed in the 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022 Olympic trials but repeatedly lost to curling’s “GOAT” (greatest of all time), John Shuster.

Shuster — who Hufman grew up with and as a young competitor beat a number of times — won the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. They had competed against one another for many years, but that was about to change.

After that last trial in 2022, Hufman pulled into his driveway, returning from another failed attempt against Shuster’s team, when his phone rang. On the other end, of all people, was Shuster. His team was down a player, they needed someone to step in, and they wanted him. It was then that Hufman was asked the question he had been waiting for all these years: Would you like to go to the Olympics?

Sweeping past competition

At 37 years old, more than two decades after he first dared to dream, Hufman became an Olympic athlete. “My initial response to John was relief,” he said “After that, the emotion was just pure excitement. I mean, the Olympics is heaven for athletes.”

Headshot of Colin Hufman
Colin Hufman, Olympic athlete and UW Bothell alumnus

Hufman had been preparing for the Winter Games long before he was officially invited, so in the weeks leading up to the big event his routine didn’t change much: Eat, practice, work out, sleep, repeat.

Most of his days were spent at the gym lifting heavy weights and doing high-intensity interval training. He explained that HIIT workouts are critical because in a single game players can sweep up to 60 rocks. “On quick ice, if a player has to sweep from start to finish, they will be putting in work for more than 24 seconds — with only a minute rest before the team throws its next rock,” Hufman said. “What you don’t want as a sweeper is to still be recovering from the last shot while you have to shoot or sweep the next rock.”

The game is just as demanding mentally as it is physically. It requires the athletes to be “alert, present and focused.” Before every game, Hufman goes through a yoga series to get his mind and body right. “A lot of athletes listen to music before games, but I find that too distracting,” he said. “For me, it’s all about getting calm and grounded.”

On Feb. 9, 2022, Hufman didn’t get a chance to go through his normal routine. He got called in mid-game, and with only a moment’s notice, he was on Olympic ice, his dream fulfilled. “It was truly incredible. Being at the Olympics, around such driven people, has an energy that is unquantifiable, and you crave it,” he said. “I just want to get back there again, and hopefully take home some hardware.”

Colin Hufman curling at the olympics
Colin Hufman, sweeping the competition at the Winter 2022 Olympics

Although Hufman didn’t take home any medals this time, he made it to the Olympic Games — and that’s a victory in and of itself. “I am definitely proud of how far I have come,” Hufman said. “But this isn’t the end.”

Living the UW Bothell legacy

Aside from being an Olympic competitor, Hufman also serves on the athletes’ advisory council for Team USA and for the USA Curling Association. “One thing I have always wanted to do in curling is to make the game better than when I started,” he said. “By serving on these councils, I am able to do that by ensuring athletes’ voices are heard and respected.”

Hufman attributes the leadership skills he exercises on the councils to his time at UW Bothell. “Being part of the Mechanical Engineering first cohort, I shared a lot of thoughts and opinions about the program,” he said. “In the process, I learned how to effectively communicate and advocate for what I think is best.

“UW Bothell helped shape me into who I am today, and it’s evident in all that I do — from curling to work to advocacy. I am truly grateful.”

Read more recent news

See all news