PHOTO: Thea Culley carries the ball in a match vs the Dominican Republic at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, where Canada captured a bronze medal (By Yan Huckendubler)
Veteran Canadian forward Thea Culley announced her retirement from international hockey Friday in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The 30 year-old native of Rossland, British Columbia played in 157 senior international matches for Canada, making her the second most capped active Women’s National Team player and the fourth most capped all-time.
“The biggest thing I’ve gained from being on the team are friendships and relationships and the skills to the build friendships and relationships with people in pressure situations and stressful environments,” she says. “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).”
After making her Junior National Team debut in 2004 in Chile, Culley began her senior international career in 2006 against Wales in Cardiff city.
She has since gone on to amass a long list of field hockey achievements, including being a part of the 2015 Pan American Games team which captured the bronze medal, the first team to medal at the Games since 1999 in Winnipeg.
“2015 was just really special,” she says. “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.”
Along with Stephanie Norlander, Culley was Canada’s top goal scorer in 2015. She was also the top goal scorer in 2013.
RELATED – Watch “A day in the life of Thea Culley”
In addition to the 2015 Pan Am Games bronze medal, Culley cites playing in her first Commonwealth Games in 2010 as one of her proudest moments, as she realized a childhood dream having been inspired to compete for Canada when her grandfather took her to the Opening Ceremony of the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria.
“It was just that ‘wow’ realization of where you are and where you come from,” she recalls of the 2010 Commonwealth Games experience. “Being a kid and receiving little trinkety pins and stickers as the athletes parading by…thinking how cool that was and at that time not even knowing what field hockey was. And then 16 years later actually being in a spot where now I am that athlete.”
She also cherishes a 2013 Pan American Cup bronze medal win, during which she scored two goals in the medal clinching game.
Culley 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 2004-05 and 2006-07.
Internationally, her career highlights included competing in two Commonwealth Games (2010 and 2014), two Pan American Games (2011 and 2015), and two Pan American Cups (2009 and 2013).
“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. ”
Culley’s achievements during her career are not limited to the field of play.
She is an active ambassador of field hockey in Canada, having served on the Field Hockey Canada Board of Directors as an Athlete Representative for multiple terms. She also serves as board member for AthletesCAN, a national athlete advocacy group.
And while her career competing internationally comes to a close, she sees retirement as a new beginning, albeit with a tried approach, tested through her field hockey career.
“I want to keep being involved in making a difference in whatever comes my way,” she says.
“The future is wide open. I think that’s probably the most exciting this for me.”