PHOTO: Taylor Curran in a game against the United States in Surrey, British Columbia on July 7, 2016 (By Blair Shier)
It has been eight years since the Canada’s men’s field hockey team last competed at the Olympic Games and like any story with a happy ending, there have been bumps along the way.
For North Vancouver, British Columbia’s Taylor Curran, the journey to the Olympics has included the highs of making the Senior National Team at 17 years-old and the lows of being diagnosed with compartment syndrome and having his field hockey career hang in the balance.
The story begins in 2009, when Curran was first named to the Senior Team. After not making the Junior National Team in 2008, Curran was invited to a senior camp and showed well as a 17 year-old.
“In the last game of that whole camp, I think I scored three of four goals,” he recalls. “And then (coach) Alan Brahmst came and talked to me after and told me he was going to pick me.”
This was followed by a trip to the 2010 Hockey World Cup. But just as his field hockey career was taking off, it was dealt a devastating blow.
“Near the end of that year, I started getting issues with compartment syndrome,” he says.
The condition is characterized by high blood pressure in the walls surrounding the leg muscles and comes with debilitating cramping.
The injury came to a head in February of 2011 on a tour to the United States.
“I couldn’t run on the pitch for more than about four or five minutes before it just cramped up,” Curran remembers.
“After that, it was diagnosed as compartment syndrome. Really the only option is surgery.”
The surgery to relieve the pressure, just prior to Canada’s attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, halted his Olympic dreams – Curran was not going to the Olympic Games, even if he did qualify.
For the next two years – and despite the surgery – he continued to battle with issues associated with compartment syndrome, making playing field hockey a struggle.
“When it flares up, pretty much you just need to sit for like two months and you can’t play,” he says. “You have to just wait for the inflammation to go down and everything to cool off.”
Some question his toughness. Others whether he would ever return to playing at a high level.
It would have been easy for someone of Curran’s age and medical situation to be discouraged. After all, after quick rise, the future of his field hockey career was highly uncertain.
Going to the Olympics, let alone continuing to play was in question. But Curran was not fazed.
“I never really considered quitting,” he says. “It just wasn’t ever something that crossed my mind. I always kind of felt that if I just figured out the right treatments and I was able to manage everything, that I would be able to play again.”
Chalk it up to the naivety that landed him on the British Columbia Under-18 Provincial Team at 13, the Burnaby’s Men’s Premier League Team at 14, or the Senior National Team at 17, or simply the stubbornness that is often required to be an elite athlete for a long period of time, but Curran did not let compartment syndrome keep him down.
While he still deals with symptoms, a combination of a make-shift self-healing process that include scraping the front of the shins with a flat object like a butter knife, week intramuscular stimulation (with needles), and modifications in his running style, Curran is able to cope.
And now thanks to that perseverance, he is only days away from becoming an Olympian for the first time.
“You certainly don’t think it’s going to be another six years and three years of all these injury struggles before you get back to another major competition,” he says of his mindset after his first exposure to a high level of hockey. “Obviously the World Cup is one thing but the Olympics is a whole other level.”
“It’s pretty incredible looking back on it, to be able to have gotten through it and to be able to go to Rio.”
Canada’s men begin the Olympic Games on August 6 against Germany (2:00pm PT/5:00pm ET)