The dinner table is a productive space in the Nurse household. It's where the hyper-athletic clan goes to refuel each night. It's a venue for democratic discussion over the day's successes and failures—a platform for reflection, debate and support (and sometimes bragging rights) that keeps everyone on their toes. And it frequently ends in a game of basketball, often between the family's two youngest members, each a budding star in their respective sports.
"You never wanted to come home and have to explain yourself," says Darnell Nurse, the middle kid of three Nurse children and an Edmonton Oilers prospect. "If you lost a game, you had to explain it."
Kia Nurse, the baby of the family, recently made a name for herself by striking gold with the Canadian women's basketball team at the Pan Am Games in Toronto. She has the same drive as her brother.
"Our family is very competitive so this makes for a great time at the dinner table," she says.
Growing up a year apart, Kia and Darnell were close—like best friends, or twins. But that closeness was also cause for competition, which would often manifest itself in the form of games of one-on-one.
Darnell, 20, used to be able to leverage his big brother strength and his 6'4", 200-plus pound, NHL-bound frame to push around his little sister. But now that Kia, 19, is a standout on the women's national basketball team and an NCAA champion to boot, those days appear to be long gone. Darnell admits to cheating in order to beat Kia nowadays. He'll do anything to win.
"You don't wanna lose to your little sister at anything," he says.
Whether the Nurse siblings inherited their talent and a palpable competitive streak, or had it instilled in them by their surroundings, elite sport success seemed unavoidable for the Hamilton-based, brother-sister duo when considering the family pedigree.
Their father, Richard, was a CFL slotblack and running back for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, while their mother Cathy played basketball for McMaster University. Older sister, Tamika, meanwhile, played NCAA hoops for Oregon and Bowling Green.
Branch out a little further and you'll find that their uncle Donovan, as in six-time pro bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb, played 13 seasons in the NFL, and their aunt Raquel was a standout point guard for the Syracuse Orange.
"When you add up that mix, you're bound to have people who want to push each other," Darnell says.
Kia says having a mix of male and female role models was extremely important in her development as an elite athlete.
"I learned different things from each member of my family," says Kia. "My mother, sister, and aunt taught me the importance of never giving up, confidence, and determination. My brother, father, and uncle continue to give me advice on working hard and making a name for myself."
Kia has clearly put that guidance to good use. She grabbed national headlines last month when, as the youngest member of the team, she led the nation's women's basketball squad to Pan Am gold, scoring 33 points in Canada's 81–73 victory over the United States in the final. Her performance earned her the opportunity to carry the Canadian flag at the closing ceremonies, another notch in her belt after she won an NCAA championship with the University of Connecticut earlier this year. Next on her plate is a trip to the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Edmonton, Alberta, in early August.
"It could be easy for Kia to rest and say she's good enough, but she's always pushing herself to get better in five different ways. To get bigger, stronger," Darnell says of his little sister. "That's what separates her from other athletes."
Darnell will also find himself in Edmonton in August, but for different reasons. He'll be in the city gearing up for the Oilers' training camp in the fall. While he'll be gunning for a spot on the Oilers' back end, it seems likely he's destined for some seasoning in the AHL before he's ready for a full-time NHL gig. With the arrival of phenom and 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid, the embattled Oilers are suddenly an organization the hockey world expects big things from, a notion Darnell said he felt firsthand during the club's development camp earlier this summer.
"Everyone in the city is really pumped up, looking forward to a new season," he said. "There's big buzz around town."
Between Kia and Darnell, the Nurse family will have lots to talk about over dinner in the coming months.