Olympic champion Sarah Nurse hopes to help inspire hockey's next wave

Mar 4 2022, 12:20 am

Sarah Nurse remembers being seven years old, plopping down in front of the television, and being mesmerized at the sight of seeing the Canadian women’s national team skate to gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. 

So inspired was Nurse, in fact, that she made gold medals and presented them to family members as she declared that one day she’d follow in the footsteps of the likes of Cassie Campbell, Jayna Hefford, and Becky Kellar. 

Almost exactly 20 years later, less just four days, there was Nurse caught up in another golden moment, this time on the receiving end of a medal draped around her neck from teammate Brianne Jenner at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. 

And in the process, undoubtedly inspiring the dreams of seven-year-olds back home. 

“I think it’s something that I take a huge amount of pride in, and I know how much of a privilege it is to be able to do that,” Nurse said in an interview with Daily Hive. “I think as we look to see women’s sports keep coming up, it definitely needs the representation and it needs people being at the forefront. 

“It needs visibility. And so for me to be that for young girls, to be that for young Black girls in hockey, I think is really special. It’s definitely such a huge privilege, and something that is necessary.

“I look at…there were role models like Jayna Hefford and Angela James, and Cassie Campbell, who I should have been able to see more often than I did, you know? I shouldn’t have been looking up to NHL players. I should have been looking up to those incredible women who have paved the way for me. We want to be able to do that for the next generation of girls.”

Two decades prior, it was Nurse on the floor watching women’s hockey at the Olympics for the very first time — the only opportunity every four years for her to watch hockey on TV and see women competing. 

It’s that representation, that imagery, that has pushed the 27-year-old Hockey Canada standout to the heights she dreamt about when crafting medals out of construction paper.

“It was seeing all of them. I had never seen…like, the boys look up to NHL players…I’d never seen a female hockey player like that,” who was named to the Olympic’s media all-star team and finished with a pair of tournament records; one for assists in a single tournament with 13 and another for points at 18.

“And I remember after 2002, I was able to meet Becky Keller and I got to take a picture of her and her medal. And that was, again, the first time that I had ever met a hockey player who, you know, wasn’t seven years old, right? So those are just people who became role models for me, and I was able to look [at them and] say, I want to do that one day, too.”

Now, Nurse can. 

She picked up the medal. 

She’s willing to pick up the mantle to help blaze the trail for the next generation, like so many of those women who did before her. 

And more. 

Nurse’s win is extra integral to the growth of the sport, one that will resonate beyond gender. 

She became the first Black women’s hockey player to win gold on the Olympic stage. 

“It’s definitely very proud for me, but it absolutely is something that is well, well overdue,” Nurse said. “I look at women who have come before me…I look at, you know, Angela James, who should have been on that ’98 team in Nagano…the first ever Olympics sport for women’s hockey. She should have been there and she is in the Hockey Hall of Fame and is one of the greatest women’s hockey players ever to play. 

“And so it’s definitely sad that she was unable to be there. I look at Blake Bolden on the US side and another incredible hockey player who continues to do amazing things for the sport of hockey in general, not only women’s hockey, and so I look at in 2022, it’s time absolutely but I do believe that it should have happened sooner.”

Its part of the reason Nurse is willing to be so visible, willing to move to the forefront, willing to be in the spotlight. 

She’s been on Sportsnet as an analyst breaking down NHL games. She’s used a sponsorship with Adidas to raise awareness on inequalities in society and in the hockey community. 

She’s front and centre in everyone’s favourite aisle at the grocery store, too. 

Nurse was on the front of a cereal box for Cheer — a Team Canada initiative featuring the rebranding of Cheerios — which supported Olympic athletes through a digital cheer program. 

On another box is Connor McDavid. 

It’s in the spirit of putting herself out there in the hopes that another young child will see it and believe they too can do what Nurse does.

Just like Nurse used to do.

“I think for me being a part of the the Cheerios box in the in the Cheerios campaign was so special to me,” Nurse started. “But when I see that cereal box, I don’t see myself. 

“I see a woman hockey player and I put myself in the shoes of somebody who’s seven years old, who’s walking down the cereal aisle and sees a woman’s hockey player, and I think about had I seen that when I was a child, it would have been a game-changer for me. 

“The fact that little girls and also little boys are able to see a female hockey player in a prominent place like a cereal box, it really shows them that they can do it. 

“That there’s a future for them, that you know, there’s a place for them that they can aspire to be.”

Aaron VickersAaron Vickers

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