Rossland native Thea Culley hung up the cleats on Friday, retiring from the Canadian Women’s National Field Hockey program after more than a decade of dedication, hard work, and leadership.
The 30-year-old announced her decision in Vancouver to close out a heralded career that saw the Rossland Secondary School graduate post the fourth highest CAPs, 157, of all Team Canada members.
“The biggest thing I’ve gained from being on the team are friendships and relationships and the skills to build friendships and relationships with people in pressure situations and stressful environments,” she said in a press release. “I’m always reminded by them when various songs come up, and that’s something I will treasure because I know that I will continue to have those (memories).”
Culley debuted with the Jr. National Team in Chile in 2004 and made her first senior international start 10 years ago in Cardiff City, Wales. Since the beginning of her career, Culley had hoped to qualify for the Olympic Games, and her last chance came at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto where the winner automatically qualified for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
However, a loss to the United States in the semifinal ended that dream. Regardless, Culley, with the same grit, determination, and class that marked her career, helped her team to bronze in a thrilling 1-0 victory over Chile to claim its first medal in the Pan Am Games since 1999.
“For us, it was ‘let’s refocus, let’s honour ourselves and the hard work we’ve been doing for the past four years, or for some of us -eight-to-10 years -and finish on a high note and really achieve something we knew was possible,” said Culley following the match.
Culley’s prolific career included two Commonwealth Games in 2010 and 2014, a fourth-place finish at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mex., a bronze at the Pan Am Cup in Argentina in 2013, and great performances at World League 1 and 2 Olympic qualifiers in 2015, capped off by a bronze at the Pan Am Games in Toronto the same year.
“2015 was just really special,” said Culley. “It came in a year when at World League 2 we rose to the occasion and proved that we could compete and perform in those situations where in the past we had faltered – in close games, in games that we could win. And the Pan Am Games and the bronze medal was the same thing.”
Culley led Team Canada in scoring in 2015 and 2013. She played for the University of Victoria Vikes from 2003 to 2007 and was named a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Tournament All-Star in 2004 and 2006, as well as an Academic All-Canadian in 2005 and 2007.
“Thea has been a fantastic contributor both on and off the field,” says Women’s National Team Head Coach Ian Rutledge. “It’s been a real privilege to have worked with her. We have a young team and Thea has lots of different experiences and lessons and she has been able to pass on those lessons and share those experience and has really shaped our program in a really positive way. I think she can take confidence that she is leaving the program in a better place. “
Fittingly, Culley was inducted on to Trail’s Home of Champions monument in 2014.
“I think over the course of my 10 year career on the team, the thing that I will value most is learning to be a champion,” Culley told the Trail Times. “To me, being a champion isn’t about winning or losing. It is the ability to get up one more time that you get knocked down, the ability to thrive in the face of adversity, and the understanding that a dream will remain a dream unless you take the action required to make it reality.”