THE OLYMPIAN CONSERVATIONIST

Crista Cullen MBE, is a triple Olympian, winning Gold and Bronze medals as part of the GB Hockey team. She runs the Tofauti Foundation (tofautifoundation.com), a charity using education as a vehicle to protect communities and wildlife in Africa, in a sustainable way. She’s a trustee and ambassador for the Exodus Travels Foundation (exodus.co.uk/foundation), promoting responsible, low-impact tourism. ‘Iw as brought up in Kenya, surrounded by wildlife – my grandfather worked in conservation and my father still does. To me, that was the norm. I didn’t realise how privileged I was to have experienced the natural world so close at hand. I was brought up free-spirited and getting into sport increased my appetite for adventure. ‘When I went to secondary boarding school in the UK, I found my identity there through sport, specifically hockey. By the age of 17, I picked up my first senior cap for the GB hockey team and went on to participate in three Olympic Games.

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‘Iw as brought up in Kenya, surrounded by wildlife – my grandfather worked in conservation and my father still does. To me, that was the norm. didn’t realise how privileged I was to have experienced the natural world so close at hand. I was brought up free-spirited and getting into sport increased my appetite for adventure ‘When I went to secondary boarding school in the UK, I found my identity there through sport, specifically hockey. By the age of 17, I picked up my first senior cap for the GB hockey team and went on to participate in three Olympic Games.

‘After winning Bronze at the London 2012 Games, I retired from hockey, moved back to Africa and immersed myself in conservation, my ingrained passion. But before Rio, in 2016, I got a call from my old coach to reconsider and I returned to the game. It turned out to be a great decision, alongside a great team – and we won Gold!’

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‘I’m fortunate that my life has been an adventure on and off the hockey pitch. I recently accepted a challenge from the adventure tour operator Exodus Travels to join a trek to Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, not as a tourist but as a porter, helping to carry equipment up the highest free-standing mountain in the world. It took five days to climb up, three days to come down, and we trekked for eight hours a day, carrying a 20kg pack on our heads (as the traditional women do). I enjoy being fit and train every day, but nothing can prepare your neck and shoulders for how tough that is. And it was one of the biggest tests of mental strength I’ve had so far.

My aim was to raise awareness of The Porter Project in Tanzania (kiliporters.org), which supports porters with first aid courses, English tuition and guide schools. It’s only been 10 years since women have been accepted as porters on Kilimanjaro, and they still make up only 18 per cent of the workforce. I wanted to prove resilience is what’s important, not gender. This opportunity to work helps women to make a living and educate their children – many of the porters I walked alongside were single mothers, trying to provide a springboard for their kids.’

ECO AWARENESS

Exploration for me is about finding these stories and taking them back into the world to raise awareness. I’m a trustee for the Exodus Travels Foundation, which has been established to support causes such as this. Our aim is to raise £500,000 over three years, and to harness the power of travel to create meaningful, sustainable change, have a positive impact on communities and environments, and educate customers to travel responsibly. ‘I’ve also set up a charity, the Tofauti Foundation, because I felt a responsibility to spread awareness of the issues facing parts of Africa. As the human population grows, there’s an inevitable conflict with the indigenous wildlife habitats.

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