On Saturday August 5th in Lancaster, US, Kate Wright (Gillis) donned the maple leaf and red and white for Team Canada for the 169th time, surpassing a record of games played for the Women’s National Team, previously set by Stephanie Jameson who had held the record since 2012.
Wright has had a career of such magnitude, it’s better to start off at the beginning.
Wright started playing field hockey after her mom, Diane Gillis – Canadian track and field athlete in her own right – encouraged her to try out for her grade nine field hockey school team at Regiopolis-Notre Dame Catholic High School in Kingston, Ontario.
Gillis saw it as the perfect blend of all the sports Wright already loved: soccer, ice hockey and track & field. Wright, an all-around tomboy, was hesitant to put on the skirt, but she ended up following her mom’s advice and made the senior varsity team first try, as a junior.
From there, Wright went on to play club leagues all over Toronto, with family travelling each weekend to and from, to see that she played in high competitive leagues.
At the young age of 17, Wright accepted an offer from then Head Coach, Sally Bell, to trial with the team. At a crucial moment in her young athletic career, Bell took a chance on Wright and asked her to join the team full time. Wright made the big leap to Vancouver to pursue her dream of competing for Canada. She finished grade 12 by correspondence. Something she wouldn’t have been able to do without the help of her high school, and without advocates like Ed Kenney, her high school athletic director.
Upon graduating high school in 2007, Kate pursued education at Boston College (2009), University of Melbourne, and finally UBC – where she was named UBC’s Academic All Canadian for the years 2012/2013/2014.
No stranger to standing out both academically and athletically, Wright was also awarded the Dianna Popowich Memorial Scholarship Award in 2013, acted as an Athlete Representative in the Sochi Olympic Familiarization Program in 2014, and was honored to walk as the torch bearer for the 2015 Pan American Games.
Her first appearance as #3 with the Canadian Women’s Team was in 2007, to a home crowd cheering her on in Vancouver vs. Chile. Now, as team captain, Wright has led the Women’s National team to multiple international tournaments – 2 Commonwealth Games (2010 & 2014), two Pan American Cups (2013, 2017), and a Pan Am Games. And along with those competitions came further recognition. Wright was awarded the Field Hockey Canada’s Women’s National Team Player of the Year in 2013, and player of the tournament at the World League 1 in 2014.
But, the last Pan American Cup in 2013, stands out as a career highlight for Wright. To a home crowd of Toronto, Ontario, with her family, friends and high school athletic director Ed Kenney, cheering from the stands, Wright led the Women’s team to win bronze – the first Pan American Cup medal in 9 years since 2004.
Kate is an athlete known for her durability. She has played the last 77 matches straight and over the past five years has only missed two games – for her brother Max’s wedding.
Wright has played for three full time coaches with the Women’s National Team, from 11 games with Coach Sally Bell (2007-2008), to 60 games with Coach Louis Mendonca (2009-2012) and 90 of her caps in the past five years with current Women’s National Team Head Coach Ian Rutledge (2013 – current).
Rutledge has come to know Wright closely, working with her for so many years on the pitch, and has nothing but respect for the 27-year-old team captain.
“Kate is one of the best athletes I have had the privilege of working with,” Head Coach Ian Rutledge says. “She is a dynamic, hardworking striker who has a rare combination of both aerobic power and blistering speed.” Rutledge goes on to add, “more importantly, Kate is an amazing person with a work ethic and value set second to none.”
As a team captain, Rutledge says she leads by example – her drive to push herself to personal bests on fitness testing days, and on the pitch, is something that consistently awes both him and her teammates.
“She continues to push personal boundaries and still set program records as one of our senior athletes, inspiring all of the team to be better every day,” reveals Rutledge.
As for the future? No one has their doubts, especially not Rutledge. “I have no doubt Kate can lead this team to Tokyo and become the first Canadian Women’s player to reach 200 caps. Well done Kate and very well deserved.”
Here’s to many more games, Kate. From here to Tokyo; to 200 games and beyond.