Agnes Q & A with Olympic hockey star Crista Cullen 

If you’re looking for some Monday motivation today, we have just the thing. Crista Cullen was a key player in the fabulous GB women’s hockey team which won Gold with such style at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Crista is widely acknowledged as one of the best hockey defenders in the world and has a string of achievements to her name. She is passionate about sport, for girls in particular, and knows a thing or two about working hard to achieve her ambitions. We were delighted to have the chance to ask her a few questions.

What was the best thing about your teenage years?
Being a teenager you are so free. It is only after you aren’t any more that you realise how amazing that time was. I enjoyed being around my mates 24/7, I loved trying to push myself both mentally and physically to be better. I would have to say that [the best thing was] just having people around you who care for you and share your experiences through those years, many of whom I am still friends with now.

What was the worst thing?
Your body is constantly changing and it is difficult to adjust to those changes. Appreciate that everyone is different and undergoes those transitions at different times. Also, fear of judgement – I think you are always so worried about what everyone will think of you, rather than being the master of your own destiny. That is the society that we live in today, and we need to change that.

What advice would you give your teenage self?
To not be phased by challenges – that is what builds your character. The demands on kids both academically and on the sports field are high, I would embrace that challenge more. Also being more willing to do what my heart wanted to do, not feeling judged by anyone, and expressing myself. Being different is not always a bad thing, it just brings a different perspective on things.

What helped you get through difficult times in your teenage years?
I have always been quite extroverted and quite a resilient person, but there were times when things got a little unmanageable and difficult. I think you need to appreciate where you are at, weigh up the options and look at things pragmatically. Sometimes stepping away and gaining some perspective can be useful, asking people you trust for their opinions, but it is your life – you need to make the changes that best suit you. Don’t ever be afraid to put your neck on the block. After all, you will never know what you’re capable of if you don’t fail now and again.

Who or what was the biggest influence on you when you were a teenager?
My sports teacher from school was a huge influence on me when I was a teenager. She was committed and supported me, and took me to training all over the country and that ultimately enabled me to fulfil my potential today.

Are you still in touch with any of your teenage friends?
As I mentioned above, I am very lucky that I am still very close to a number of my teenage friends, which is lovely. I do think that may be a boarding school influence as you live with and are so close to your buddies and so there is a very unique bond there.

What motivated you to succeed when you were a teenager and do you have the same motivation now?
I think I was one of those athletes where nothing was ever good enough. I would play a match and consistently be able to tell you all of the things I didn’t execute well, or where I should have been better. This always made me want to train and push harder and I think that mentality and ethos is what I still use now. You are always learning, no matter how old you are, and the constant drive to do better is what I hope I never lose.

Did you have any ideas about your future career when you were at school? (Did you always want to be a sportswoman?)
No, I think like most people I wanted to be successful but I didn’t have an idea of what in or for what. I think I was given some great opportunities in sport and thankfully was in a position to take them. I have, however, always had a job alongside my sporting ambitions as you do need a career after sport and I think that is very important too.

Did you have to make sacrifices in order to achieve your ambitions and were they worth it?
I don’t look at them like that, but you do make choices. The reality is, to compete and to want to be the best, there is an element of selfishness that comes with it. It is all-encompassing; you have to put your everything into it. You have to balance your lifestyle and that is never easy. You do miss out on things – family events, weddings, christenings – however, if you are successful in obtaining your dream, it makes it all worth it.

What advice would you give aspiring hockey players, or sports players in general?
The advice that I always offer is believe in yourself, work really hard and appreciate that there will be setbacks. People get injured, things don’t always go right, you don’t get picked, etc, etc. Be resilient in your approach and if it is what you really want don’t give up on it.

What is a typical training schedule and how do you stay motivated to train hard?
Typically, when training, it is very long days. In the full-time programme, you are on pitch training 2×2 hour sessions and then a gym session/video(tactical) session. Things are getting so advanced now that everything is individualised, so it is up to you to do what is best for your preparation and your body. As well as the training, you must make sure your body is robust so there are extra sessions for that as you don’t want to break down. It isn’t easy. If you have a goal, and know that each session you do is possibly taking you closer, you don’t need more motivation than that!

Do you have any favourite music to train to?
I am pretty flexible when it comes to music choices as I will pretty much listen to anything and everything. As I come from a team environment some people are more picky that me, so I let them choose. It is easier that way 😉

What advice would you give to teenage girls who feel they have no particular talent or skill?
Everyone has something that they enjoy, even though they may not be the best at it. Find out what that is, what makes you happy, and go out there and express yourself. Having a healthy lifestyle and looking after yourself is so important and we have such a huge drop-out rate in girls participating in sport through University. Join a club/community or something, be willing to challenge yourself, and enjoy the journey.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I would have to say reaching my ultimate ambition of being an Olympic Gold Medalist at Rio 2016, but winning bronze in London 2012 in front of a home crowd was also super special.

Do you enjoy being a role model?
I have a responsibility to try and make people realise that I am a normal person who was driven and who has worked hard to achieve something special. I enjoy sharing that message and encouraging people to be ambitious and want to make a difference. I love having the opportunity to do just that.

For more information about Crista and her work, please visit her website.

If Crista has inspired you to get more sport and physical activity into your life, check out our Being Active pages.