Claudia Téllez sat in her parents’ home in Guadalajara, a fedora perched on her head, ready for an early morning interview on one of her rare days off. A career in hockey is something she’s chased for what feels like her entire adult life, and this is a part of it she takes on willingly—gladly—even if it means giving up some of her precious vacation time.
Téllez is the international face of Mexican women’s ice hockey. How she got to this point has taken nothing short of a leap of faith.
“When I was younger, Guadalajara didn’t have women’s hockey and my family didn’t like that I wanted to play hockey,” Téllez said. “It was for boys, and so on. My father’s a basketball player and my mother played volleyball so they thought I’d take up one of those sports. That’s not how it went, though.” While Téllez started out in basketball, she soon learned about an inline hockey team when a friend of hers organized a game of street hockey at a nearby rink for her own birthday celebration.
“I had a street hockey stick,” Téllez recalled. “One of those with the wooden handle and a plastic blade—Franklin, I think, was the brand. The four of us went to play at the rink, and just by chance, there was a group of PeeWees, training for a national competition.” Téllez was captivated. She ran home afterwards to break the news to her parents: she wanted to play inline hockey.
“My mother said, ‘if you pay for it…’” Téllez grinned. She worked an after-school job to afford her equipment and team fees, dropping basketball for good. Her natural talent was obvious, and she soon made it to the national inline team. Twelve years later, when Mexico started its own women’s ice hockey initiative, she was asked if she would be interested in making the jump to ice hockey at the age of 29.
It’s an understatement to say Téllez was somewhat reluctant.
Photo courtesy of Claudia Téllez
“I didn’t like it,” Téllez said of learning to ice skate. “I dominated in roller hockey. On rollerblades…yeah, I dominated. And so, when I switched over to ice….My coach in Guadalajara was like, ‘You have to play!’ ‘I don’t want to!’ ‘You have to!’ So, I got on the ice and tried to do the same thing I did on wheels. I went flying, I hit the boards. It was a little frustrating because I couldn’t do the same stuff I was used to on rollerblades.
“I wanted to stop…and I’d go flying,” said Téllez. “I wanted to cut to the side and stop…and I’d go flying. I wanted to pivot…and I’d go flying. I mean, it happened to all the girls who made the changeover, but I still hated it at first.”
Téllez stuck with it, though. She saw the same opportunity Mexico did: the chance to make the Olympics. With such a small field of competition on the women’s side of ice hockey, Mexico stood a much greater chance of making the Olympics in women’s hockey than in men’s. The Mexican ice hockey federation began pouring everything they had into the sport with the goal of making the shortlist for the 2018 Olympic Games. Although only eight teams including the host country are invited to participate, Mexico stood a good chance. Many of the players, Téllez included, relocated to Mexico City to train full-time. She lived in government-supported athlete housing and supplemented her income by working as a manager for the Mexican Ice Hockey federation.
Photo courtesy of Claudia Téllez
Although she quickly made a name for herself on the ice, Téllez truly made her mark on the business side of Mexican ice hockey. She was charged with organizing the first Pan-American games—the first Latin American ice hockey tournament—which was something she undertook not just to advance ice hockey in Latin America, but also because it was important for the development of Mexican sports in general. Téllez sees events like the Pan-American as an opportunity for Mexico to advance itself as a leader while also growing hockey domestically.
“I believe Mexico has the capacity to advance the most [out of all the countries participating in women’s hockey at the international level] because our neighbors are the U.S. and Canada,” said Téllez. “I see a ton of talent on this side, support by our governing body, families, by private investors. I think that Mexico can achieve a lot of things.”
Team Mexico may have fallen nearly 15 spots short of its stated goal of making the Olympics only four years after launching its first official women’s ice hockey program, but Téllez is extremely proud of her team and what it has achieved in such a short period of time. Team Mexico recently played its way up three spots to a berth in division IIA, making it that much closer to a spot in the 2022 Olympic rotation. At no. 29 in the world, Mexico still has quite a ways to go, but the future is bright.