Anyone in a team sport knows it’s about the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. But, in 2015, when the back of the sweater says
‘Nurse,’ sports fans have become accustomed to seeing a gold medal nestled over top the ‘Canada’ on the front.
Last month Kia Nurse scored 33 points as Canada defeated the United States in the gold medal game in women’s basketball at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, the
first time the national team had stood on the top step of an international podium. Kia was named the country’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies.
In January Kia’s brother, Darnell, won a gold medal with Canada’s National Junior Team at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. The defenceman was named
the team’s player of the game in the final win over Russia.
The next day, much farther from the spotlight, his cousin Sarah was winning gold of her own, as Canada’s National Women’s Development Team shut out Sweden
to win the 2015 Nations Cup in Füssen, Germany. It was her second international gold medal.
This week Sarah is in Calgary, one of 43 players at Canada’s National Women’s Development Team selection camp. As she takes the first step to once again
wearing the red and white, she’s inspired by what two of her cousins have done on some of the world’s biggest sporting stages.
“Watching Kia at the Pan Am Games, I think, it was a very proud moment for Canada,” says Sarah, “and just taking a step back and thinking, that’s my little
cousin and she’s out there doing incredible, incredible things. Watching [both Kia and Darnell] go out there and do big things, it’s like I want to do
that, too. It’s kind of my turn.”
Nurse says her cousins’ high-profile success hasn’t added pressure to her plate. If anything, it’s only brought more positive feedback and well wishes her
way. And having been to several Hockey Canada camps before, in addition to playing for both Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team and Canada’s National
Women’s Development Team, Nurse says the camp staff and decision-makers know her for who she is as a player and person, not for who she may be because of
her last name.
Seemingly every branch of Nurse’s family tree has achieved a high level of success: her dad, Roger, competed for Canada in lacrosse; her aunt Cathy played
basketball at McMaster University, her aunt Racquel at Syracuse University and her cousin Tamika (Kia and Darnell’s sister) at the University of Oregon and
Bowling Green University (as well as for the national junior team); her uncle Richard was a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats; and another uncle, Donovan
McNabb, played 13 seasons in the National Football League.
If anyone understands the high expectations a Canadian hockey player faces, it would be someone who was a starting quarterback in the NFL.
“He’s told us a few times just to relax,” says Nurse. “There’s a reason that we’re here with Hockey Canada and Canada Basketball – there’s a reason they’ve
chosen us – and so just relax and trust your skills and abilities.”
With that many athletes in the family it’s not surprising that competition was fierce – but friendly – growing up.
“Kia and I are a year apart, so we’d always play soccer or be at basketball camp together. I think there was always that little bit of competition when we
just wanted to beat each other,” says Nurse, before laughing, “but then Kia got better at basketball and I got better at hockey.”
Nurse played for Ontario Red at both the 2011 and 2012 National Women’s Under-18 Championship. She won gold the first time, bronze the second; in the 2012
bronze medal game, she scored the tying goal with just over four minutes to play in the third, then the winner four minutes into overtime. The following
year, despite missing most of selection camp with an injury, she made a national team for the first time and won gold at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18
Women’s World Championship.
“When coach called me and said that I was selected for that team it felt like years and years of hard work were paying off,” says Nurse.
This week she’s looking to build on her successes with Team Canada. Having been a part of the program in the past – this year’s Nations Cup being at the
top of her highlight reel – she knows how camps like these – with access to the best mental training consultants and strength and conditioning coaches –
can help her game.
She also knows what it takes to make a final roster, to be one the chosen 23.
“There aren’t as many nerves as there were at my first couple of camps,” says Nurse. “I think just taking the experience – you know the coaches, you know
the staff, you get to know the players over the years – I think that’s just helped me calm nerves and just focus on the hockey.”