“Shouldn’t you be playing basketball?”
Sarah Nurse heard it more than once. She got used to the questions and
comments, the snide remarks and smirks that came from the other side of the
As a young, black girl playing high-level minor hockey against the boys in
Hamilton, Ont., Nurse was no stranger to people questioning her place in
the game, and it had nothing to do with her skill set.
“People have always doubted my decision to play hockey because of my gender
and my race,” Nurse says. “There were obviously comments and remarks made
over the course of my career that were not always malicious, but they made
me think about people’s perception of race.”
Nurse knows she can’t change those perceptions all by herself, but she’s
certainly doing her part.
The 24-year-old is a 2018 Olympic silver medallist, won a world title with
Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team in 2013 and a national title with
Ontario Red at the 2011 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, and was the
second-overall selection by the Toronto Furies in the most recent CWHL
She is wearing the Maple Leaf once again this week as part of the Rivalry
Series against the U.S., with an eye towards playing at her first IIHF
Women’s World Championship in Finland in just a few months.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg for Nurse, who has had no shortage of
motivation to succeed.
“I love to prove people wrong and that’s been a constant driving force in
my life,” she says. “When I’m doubted or questioned, I love having the
opportunity to show people what I can do. I’m constantly pushing myself,
and overcoming these obstacles have definitely made me into the player I am
So where does the strength of character come from?
Nurse gives all the credit to her family, which knows a thing or two about
The family tree includes lacrosse (father Roger, who emigrated to Canada
from Trinidad & Tobago in the 1970s), hockey (brother Isaac plays for
the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, and cousin Darnell is a blue-liner with the
NHL’s Edmonton Oilers) and football (uncle Richard played six seasons with
the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and uncle Donovan McNabb quarterbacked the
NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX).
And when it comes to playing basketball, Nurse leaves the hooping to cousin
Kia, a two-time NCAA champion and Pan-Am Games gold medallist who was a
top-10 pick of the New York Liberty in the 2018 WNBA draft.
It’s the family connection that has helped keep the University of Wisconsin
product grounded and put her focus not on hate or racism, but on being the
best Sarah Nurse she can be.
“I was taught that hate is just noise and to never take anything to heart,”
she says. “My parents have always encouraged me to be confident in the
person and the player that I am and that at the end of the day, my
character and ability would speak for itself. I owe a lot to my family for
teaching me how to deal with situations in a respectful manner and to keep
a level head.”
Those are the lessons Nurse wants to pass on to the next generation.
Just like she looked up to women’s hockey pioneers like Cassie
Campbell-Pascall, Hayley Wickenheiser and Hockey Hall of Fame inductee
Angela James, today’s minor hockey players look to Nurse and her teammates
as leaders of the women’s game.
It’s a position that brings with it a certain amount of pressure, but also
the ability to affect change on and off the ice.
“Being a role model is very important to me and something I take a lot of
pride in,” Nurse says. “I want to encourage young black females to break
barriers in not only hockey but in whatever they set their minds to,
regardless of any stereotypes.”