Crista Cullen retired from Britain’s Olympic hockey team after winning bronze in 2012. She was coaxed out of retirement for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where Team GB brought home gold. Now running a marketing consultancy business in Britain, she talks about growing up in Kenya, the quest for acceptance by her peers that propelled her into full-time sport, and a conservation cause close to her heart.
Growing up in Kenya, what was it like?
Crista: In the school holidays, my brother and I, especially later on, used to take clients into Galana [next to Tsavo East] on a local safari to earn holiday money. In the UK, most people do pot washing in a local pub. As children, we had pet mongooses, scorpions. We were feral children, more at home on an adventure in the middle of nowhere. Coming over to England, [I saw] so much conformity. Sent to boarding school, I quickly learned that shaving my legs and wearing make-up was important at the age of 13. It was hard to fit in, sport was my refuge. It made me accepted.
Why did you decide to come back to Kenya?
Crista: I got picked for England [to play hockey] very early, hence why I ended up retiring after London. I had done two Olympics. It was a very hard decision [to give it up] but because we’d hosted the Olympics [in London 2012] and as a GB athlete, you feel like a celebrity for two weeks of your life. We won bronze in London, and I thought that was probably the best we’d get and that I’d be a part of. I’d been away from my family for a long time, so the pull to go home was too strong.