Crista Cullen, perhaps best known for her success with Great Britain’s Olympic Gold medal-winning hockey team in Rio 2016, is also Head of Marketing for Duke’s Sports Travel. She organises sports tours all over the world, and in addition offers coaching and after dinner speaking as part of her repertoire.
Here the Old Oakhamian talks about her time at School, her pathway to sporting success and plans for the future.
Memories of Oakham
What was your greatest achievement at school?
Passing my exams! Managing to ﬁnd a balance between schoolwork and training – juggling my sporting ambitions and my educational aspirations – was perhaps my greatest achievement at School. It was a constant balancing act and I found I needed to be super-organised, deciding how to prioritise my studies and training in order to succeed. I think this is even harder for aspiring athletes of today, but cannot be laboured enough; it is fundamental to a well-rounded individual.
What are your favourite memories of Oakham?
I feel very lucky to have experienced the many opportunities that living in a boarding school environment provided and made some great lifelong friendships at Oakham. During my time at Oakham the sports staﬀ (namely Jo and Charlie Welch) hugely assisted in my balancing act and getting me to and from training, for which I am forever grateful.
How did you get started playing hockey?
I loved all sport as a child, in particular team sports, and took advantage of all that was on oﬀer at School. Hockey oﬀered me many opportunities, which I embraced. I trained really hard, kept an open mind to see what might happen and landed a place in the England U16 team. At 17 I earned my ﬁrst Senior International cap and continued to graft at my trade, taking advantage of every chance that came my way, and as in everyone’s journey, I had a little bit of luck too.
What advice would you give to aspiring hockey players at Oakham?
Be willing to throw yourself into everything, not just those things that you are comfortable doing; work hard, be committed and you never know what you could achieve.
How does your experience at the Rio Olympics compare with the London Olympics?
In London we had the home advantage –there’s nothing quite like hearing a home crowd screaming their support for you. Winning the Bronze medal in 2012 was a great achievement, one of which I am very proud to this day. However, when I was then oﬀered the chance to trial for the Rio Games training squad, after three years in retirement, I thought ‘What am I risking?Purely my pride – and I can live with that’, so I gave it one last go, and coming away with a Gold medal was a lovely way to bow out of a sport I love.
How have you celebrated your medal-winning success?
Privately I have celebrated with my family back home in Kenya very brieﬂy, as well as taking part in all the public celebrations; these have ranged from travelling on an open top bus around Manchester to meeting the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace. I am very much enjoying seeing where this journey will take me, and feel very privileged to be on it.
What are you planning to do next?
I am hugely passionate about Conservation and am involved in some amazing projects such as Galana Wildlife Conservancy, and I would like to continue with my work in this ﬁeld, maybe leverage oﬀ the success and see if we can gather more awareness of the amazing eﬀorts being made to protect animals around the world. As well as seeing what else is out there in the world of broadcasting, after dinner speaking, not to mention my full-time job as Head of Marketing for Duke’s Sports Travel.