Rossland-born athlete Thea Culley was in Toronto this summer for the 2015 Pan Am Games where she and the rest of Team Canada won the bronze medal in field hockey.
Culley started playing the sport while she was going to Rossland Secondary School. Now she lives in Vancouver where she finished a bachelor’s degree in human kinetics at UBC, and works full-time for Karate B.C. and Judo B.C. in sports administration.
This year’s Pan Am Games was the fourth major multi-sporting event Culley has attended.
“This is my second Pan Ams, and I’ve been to two Common Wealth Games as well, so not my first multi-sport experience,” said Culley, “but it was definitely different from all the other ones because we were in Canada, at home.”
Culley had been looking forward to walking into the Pan Am Games on the home team since the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“I can remember walking in four years ago in Guadalajara,” she said, “and hearing Mexico come in and … we knew Toronto was hosting at that point so I was imagining what it would be like to do that in Toronto.”
Culley wasn’t disappointed, though she wishes the experience hadn’t gone by so fast.
“I wish that I could go back and slow down the whole thing, because it just felt like it was going so fast,” said Culley. “We were in the tunnel waiting and you can hear people getting excited because they know you’re coming, and then you go in and you can feel the energy, and it’s almost electrical: the energy of people and the excitement.”
Playing in Canada also meant that Culley had many family and friends in the audience, including some old friends from Rossland.
“One of my old teammates from Rossland—she was the goalie while we were here in Rossland in high school—she showed up for a game, and I had no idea [she was coming], and got to visit with her after the game,” she said.
Team Canada’s bronze win came after losing to the U.S. 3-0 in the semi-finals.
Despite the loss, Culley is proud of how her team performed.
“It was one of those games where we actually came out and played the best hockey that I’ve seen us play to date,” said Culley. “Everything that you would want, we were doing, and the U.S., I think they’re ranked fifth in the world right now … we’re ranked twentieth, so it’s kind of a David and Goliath situation.”
After the semi-final loss, Team Canada went on to win the bronze match against Chile, 1-0.
“It was definitely a battle,” said Culley. “They played well, as they always do. They always show up to play. I think they probably came out stronger than we did—I think we were battling the pressure of playing at home—but we were able to withstand their kind of storm and work our way into the game, and settle in, and we scored with [five] minutes left in the game.”
Missing out on gold means Team Canada won’t make it to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, as the team also wasn’t in the seven top-ranked teams at the 2014-15 International Hockey Federation Hockey World League championship semi-finals.
But Culley is still happy that her team could bring home a medal for Canada.
Now the question for her is whether or not she’ll stay in the game long enough to have another shot at the Olympics, or retire and start a family with her partner.
“Lots of athletes do retire … after Olympic qualifications, and so I’m just trying to decide what that looks like for me,” said Culley. “I’m getting to a point in my life too where there are other things that I want to experience. I played on this team for a decade, all of my 20s, and so it’s kind of like, ‘Ok, well what do I want to pursue next?’”
For now, Culley said she will continue training with Team Canada.