Individually, each member of the Nurse family makes for an interesting story. Combined, their athletic achievements are remarkable enough to have caught the attention of a filmmaker who is producing a documentary on the talented kids and their parents.
The hour-long profile being made by Uninterrupted Canada has been in production for months and is scheduled to air in the fall on TSN.
While there have been many high-profile Canadian sporting households, there has never been one as diverse as the Nurses.
Richard Nurse was a wide receiver for six years in the CFL. His wife, Cathy, was a standout basketball player at McMaster University. Their eldest daughter, Tamika, played NCAA Division I basketball at Oregon and Bowling Green. Their son, Darnell, is a top defenceman with the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL. Their youngest child, Kia, is the star of Canada’s women’s Olympic basketball team and an all-star guard for the New York Liberty of the WNBA.
The Harts were famous for wrestling. The Howes, Sutters and Staals for hockey. The Nurses excel at everything.
“When I realized all of the things her family has done, I felt like I had to tell this story,” says Vinay Virmani, a Toronto filmmaker who is the chief content officer for Uninterrupted Canada, an offshoot of the sports media company Uninterrupted that LeBron James launched in 2015 in the United States. “The more we explored it, the more compelling it became.”
Unnamed for now, the documentary comes on the heels of Anything Is Possible, a biopic the same group released last year that detailed Toronto Raptors star Serge Ibaka, and his journey from the impoverished streets of Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo to his return there as an NBA champion.
”Our Serge Ibaka feature performed really well, and I wanted to do something as a follow-up,” Virmani says. “As beautiful as that story was, I felt a responsibility to tell a Canadian home-grown story.”
Interviews for the documentary were conducted over the past several months at the Nurse family home in Hamilton. The narrative tells the story of Tamika, Darnell, and Kia growing up in the city on the western end of Lake Ontario and how their parents raised them. It explores themes central to their family life: immigration, gender and racial equality, which could not be more timely.
Richard moved to Ontario from Trinidad as a child. He is Black and Cathy is white.
“Looking at what’s happening in the world right now, there is so much work to be done,” Richard, 53, says. At certain times, he has felt the sting of racial abuse.
“We’re a biracial family and to see who we are and how it shaped us is important,” he says. “There are certain things we’ve had a discussion about, and the documentary peels back the onion a bit.
“I am an F-You guy, that’s how I have dealt with it all my life.”
One of eight children, Richard Nurse came to Canada when he was 4, a year and a half after his father accepted a job in Hamilton with Westinghouse.
His dad put him in hockey a year later at the advice of a friend who told him, “That’s what you do in Canada.”
He played hockey and lacrosse and was eager to play football, too, but his father wouldn’t allow it.
Richard talked an older sister into signing a waiver for him and he played football in secret. His dad only found out after Richard scored a touchdown and an item about him appeared in a local newspaper.
He continued to play hockey until he was 17, then switched to football in Grades 12 and 13.
He was good enough to earn a scholarship to Canisius College in Buffalo, and was later chosen in the third round of the 1990 CFL draft by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He played in 103 games over six seasons.
Richard met Cathy at a high school dance when she was 14 and he was 16. They did not begin to date for several years.
“He’s an acquired taste,” she says.
They eventually became a couple, and he proposed to her one Christmas. They had been together for many years, and have been married 26 years.
When he was through with football, Richard stepped in to take over an AAU girls basketball team that had been left without a coach. His oldest daughter, Tamika, began to play for him when she was in Grade 3.
“My dad was tough, but he was fair,” says Tamika, who is 32 and a fitness trainer. “As tough as he was on you, he was just as uplifting when you did something well. He has an exceptional gift as a motivator.”
Tamika led her high school in Hamilton, St. Thomas More, to an undefeated season and a provincial championship in her senior year, was selected twice to the Canadian junior national team and earned a scholarship, playing point guard at Oregon for two years and then at Bowling Green for two more.
“She was the trailblazer,” Kia, 24, says. “Darnell and I always looked up to her and wanted to do what she did.”
Born a little more than a year apart, Darnell and Kia are as close as any siblings could be.
“It is almost like they are twins,” Cathy says.
When they were young, Richard would take Kia to basketball and Cathy took Darnell to hockey.
While Richard was a stern, intense coach, the Nurse kids found their mother to be more sympathetic.
“They would vent about Richard to me,” Cathy says. “He was tough and is a disciplined person and he tells it like it is. I was always the softer one.”
Not too soft.
“Mom was more nurturing, but no pushover,” Tamika says, laughing.
So how did they go about raising three elite athletes?
“Part of the success of our kids is that we have always been on the same page when it came to raise them,” Richard says. “We always said they needed to excel, and told them they had to play at the highest level they could. They had be very disciplined, and they had to be accountable.”
Darnell took to hockey in his youth, played three seasons for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL and was drafted by the Oilers in the first round in 2013. He is in his fifth season in Edmonton, is one of the team’s alternate captains and is its representative to the NHL Players’ Association.
“I always wanted to be a lawyer, but I grew up around a bunch of people and wanted to be like them the deeper I got into sports,” Darnell, 25, says. “The main focus for all of us was to be the best athlete in the family. My father was hard on all of us, but always with love. He showed us what we were capable of. He wasn’t coddling.”
Kia, whose season with the WNBA’s Liberty has been delayed by COVID-19, has played basketball since she was 4. Her father helped coach her AAU teams from the time she was 7 through Grade 12. In that span, they lost only a handful of times.
She also played at St. Thomas More and helped to win three consecutive Ontario high school championships. From there, she went to the University of Connecticut, winning two NCAA titles in four years. She also was a member of the Canadian national team that won a gold medal at the 2015 Pan-Am Games, and played in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“When you are young and you look at your mom and dad, they are superheroes,” Kia says. “When I talk about my family, who they are as people and how they generally shaped my life, it’s when I am most proud. Looking back, what happened with us kind of makes sense now.”
The whole family is competitive, but none more than Darnell and Kia. As kids, they raced downstairs, raced to see who would be first in line, raced bicycles and competed to see who would get the highest grades in school.
Richard remembers them playing one-on-one to decide who had to wash the dishes.
“They’d come in fighting,” he says.
Recently, when they were both in Hamilton visiting their parents, Darnell and Kia shot baskets together.
“I lost, of course,” Darnell says.
Kia says the idea for the documentary came out of a conversation with her marketing team at Cimoroni & Company in Toronto. Uninterrupted Canada jumped at the idea.
“After 10 years in the business and producing films, I know when I have a good one,” Virmani says.
The family has enjoyed the process.
“Darnell and Kia live their life in front of people, but the rest of us don’t,” Tamika says. “It was fun to have a frank discussion with our family, and to bring everyone else to our dining room table.”