Five things to know about Sarah Nurse: The biracial ice hockey star that took action against racial inequality

The Canadian Olympic silver medallist went from athlete to social activist, and now has a deal with Barbie and a shout out from Drake!

By Andrew Binner
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Being a biracial woman that excelled in ice hockey has given Sarah Nurse a unique lens through which to view racial and sexual discrimination.

While sports media outlets in North America often focus on athletes from basketball or American football when it comes to inequality, the 2018 Olympic silver medallist realised that only ice hockey players had the ability to really connect with their sizeable, predominantly white fan base.

"...it's kind of a culture of conformity and a little bit of silence,” Nurse told TSN of her decision to speak out.

"I have a platform and I can reach an audience that may not be reached otherwise, that may not be reached by WNBA players or NBA players. I realised that I have kind of a responsibility to do that."

Nurse’s profile has boomed in recent years thanks to her proactive stance, and her influence now extends well beyond sport.

But what else do you know about the forward, who also helped Canada’s women to the 2021 World Championships title and will represent her nation again at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics?

1 - Olympic dream started young

As with many Olympians, Nurse was determined to compete in the Games from a young age.

Her dream stemmed from the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics where, as a seven year old at her grandparents house, she witnessed Canada’s women’s hockey team win the gold medal.

“I made gold medals out of construction paper and made a little Canadian flag,” she told The Star.

“There is a picture of me and my gold medal and my Canadian flag. I guess I told them I would be in the Olympics one day.”

Talk about the power of manifestation!

Sarah Nurse celebrates after scoring against the USA in a group match at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics.
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

2 - The Nurse family’s strong sporting DNA

Nurse wasn’t the only member of her gifted family with the same Olympic dream.

Her cousin Kia is a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), and was selected to represent Canada at the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Sarah’s brother Isaac is an up and coming ice hockey star, currently playing in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), while her other cousin Darnell was selected seventh in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, and has been with them ever since.

These days, the six-foot-four defenseman is a household name at the franchise, where he also serves as an alternate captain.

Internationally, he helped Canada to silver at the 2019 World Championships.

Darnell has also helped to shine a light on racial injustice. When Mathew Dumba of the Minnesota Wild took a knee during the first American anthem of the NHL's restart Aug. 1 2020, Darnell and Chicago Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban rested their hands on Dumba's shoulders in a show of support.

3 - A scholar role model

Sarah Nurse is a role model for young ice hockey players in more than one way.

She graduated from the University of Wisconsin School of Business in 2018, and it was here that she began to find her voice in the ongoing dialogue regarding equality among races and genders. 

“I wouldn’t say I’m an activist, but I aspire to be one. I see the work, the time, the effort and the intensity that so many people have put into fighting for causes they believe in,” she told uwbadgers.com.

“I’m trying to do my best to bring awareness and advocate for things that I’m passionate about.

“Sport has power because it brings so many people joy. Everyone should be able to enjoy it regardless of what they look like or where they come from or what they were born with.”

Sarah Nurse (left) wants to break down racial and sexist stereotypes in ice hockey.
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

4 - Meaningful Barbie deal

Barbie dolls presented Nurse with an identity crisis at a young age: she owned and enjoyed the figurines, but never saw one that looked like her.

That made her brand deal with the company all the more impactful in August 2020.

The Barbie makers released a Canadian hockey-themed range of dolls, including one in the likeness of Nurse.

The range was designed to encourage all girls to be exactly what they want in life - a mantra that fits Nurse’s off-ice goals to a tee.

“Ever since I was a child, people wanted to put me in this box,” Nurse told Sportsnet. “If you’re a hockey player, this is what you should do, this is what you should look like.”

“But I wasn’t like that. I was this little girl that went and scored three goals during the game, but then left the game wearing a dress. I didn’t fit into the stereotypical mould of a hockey player.”

Nurse’s Barbie doll features in The NHL Black Hockey History Tour - a mobile museum that is raising awareness of the League's pioneering black hockey players as well as its current black athletes.

5 - Grabbing Drake’s attention

Nurse’s message of inclusivity resonated well beyond the confines of her sport, personified by a shout out from rap star and fellow Canadian Drake.

A renowned sports fan, the musician posted a photo of Nurse on his Instagram stories (where he boasts over 100 million followers), and the internet went wild.

“I woke up to my phone just buzzing,” she told the Toronto Star. “And I actually put it on silent for a little bit, until it got out of control. All my friends were texting me: ‘You’re on Drake’s Instagram story.’ And they’re like: ‘He followed you on Instagram. That’s so cool.’ And it was definitely very cool and flattering. He’s actually a really big fan of hockey. Who knew?”

She reportedly gained around 2,000 Instagram followers shortly after Drake posted his Instagram story about her.

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