When I was a 3-year-old growing up in Toronto, all the kids at school loved soccer. Therefore, I loved soccer, and that was the sport I wanted to play. I had a lacrosse stick at home, but it was for fooling around in the house. Soccer was what I wanted to play.
My stepdad wasn’t having it.
He pushed me in the lacrosse direction. He didn’t outlaw soccer, but he wanted me to try out lacrosse first to see if I liked it. I went to one practice, and I was hooked.
I met Scott Gillingham early on, who remains one of my good buddies, and his lacrosse game awed me. I wanted to be like him.
I was a good runner. If I could get the ball in my stick, I could run from run from one end to the other. That is, if I could control it all the way there.
I fell in love with the game, especially box, and began to learn its heritage. It’s part of our upbringing, our culture. It’s a medicine game, and the more I played, the more I learned of what it can do.
I grew up in a rough neighborhood. Sports got me away from it. When I got to the arena, all I thought about was sports. When I got on the floor, I always had a clear mind. I used to play for my well-being. When I was young, all I cared about were sports. Sports, sports, sports. I always loved being around the boys, hanging out and playing the game I loved. Winning always helped.
But I think you learn a lot at a young age when you start losing. Some kids get down on themselves when they lose, but sometimes losing is almost better than winning. You have to learn from it. You learn from your mistakes, and losing taught me a lot of lessons that apply to sports and beyond.
I really bought into the process of being a part of something bigger than myself. Being a part of a team taught me to work well with others, to lead by example and to lead by voice. You realize that you won’t always win. Sometimes you will lose: in sports, at work, at school, in life. Whatever you do, there are highs and lows, and sports taught me that growing up.
You can’t always think you’re the best. My father always used to say,
“There’s always going to be somebody better than you, always going to be someone tougher than you.”
He was right. When you play in a big game or in a final, and that’s all you’ve cared about for months and years, you don’t always win. Sometimes you lose. And when that gets taken from you, you’re left to become a stronger person on and off the floor.
I learned a lot of life lessons through sports, and I’m very grateful for my teammates who have put me back in place and calmed me down. Sports have taught me to control my anger, how to deal with ups and downs, push through and persevere.
When I look back, my lacrosse career feels like a blink of an eye. But when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel so fast. When you’re on a five-game winning streak, you’re riding high. Then, you drop three in a row, and you’re down in the dumps.
There will always be someone faster, stronger and better than you. But as long as you give everything you’ve got, you can’t be disappointed in your process. As long as you give everything you’ve got, there’s nothing to be disappointed about in yourself.
In 2014 when I was with the Calgary Roughnecks, we played the Rochester Knighthawks in the NLL Championship. Rochester had won the last two championships, and we were aiming to knock them off their perch.
We won the first game, 10-7, at home. Then, we traveled to Rochester for Game 2. A win would have secured the Cup. We lost, 16-10, forcing a Game 3 right after.
With three minutes to play, we led the 10-minute mini-game, 2-0. We gave up three goals in the final 2:14 to lose the game and the championship, 3-2.
That one hurt. That one really, really hurt.
But it’s a learning curve. You feel that hunger, and you don’t want to feel that pain again. Ever again.
It’s all about how you take it. I took it as a positive thing.
A few years later in 2018 with the Saskatchewan Rush, I had another shot at the NLL Cup. Again, it was Rochester in my team’s way. Again, we won Game 1. Again, we lost Game 2. But this time, the decider went in our favor, 15-10, and I finally got to hold that trophy.
I will never forget something my older sister Cindy said to me once when I was training. At one point, I was so tired that I felt I had to stop, so I did. She asked me why I stopped. I said I couldn’t breathe; I was too tired. She asked what happened five seconds after I stopped. I replied that I caught my breathe.
She said, “Well, why didn’t you just push through for five more seconds?”
That stuck with me for my whole life. When I feel like I can’t go anymore, I remember when she said that to me, and I push and push. It’s mind over matter. As long as your mind says you can do it, you can push through. As long as you believe you can do it, you can. As soon as you tell your body you’re done, your body will shut down. Your brain is a very powerful muscle. If you train it to preserve, man, you can do anything you want in your life.
Lacrosse has shaped me to be the man I am today. It’s made me a better teammate, a better father and more patient. It’s helped me release anger and frustration. It’s shown me how to be a better man and given me the confidence that I can do whatever I set my mind to.
I have won trophies and been given accomplishments. I always wanted to be the all-time leading scorer for aboriginal people, and as of right now, I am. I’m an NLL champion, a World Indoor Lacrosse Championships medalist and NLL MVP.
None of it would have been possible without my teammates, my coaches, my family, my wife, and my entire support system. I wouldn’t be anywhere without the Iroquois Nationals, the Calgary Roughnecks, the Saskatchewan Rush and everyone who makes them go. The people who have surrounded me take credit for where I am and who I am.
Cups and awards fade. Sure, I’m proud of my accomplishments. I worked hard for them. But I always thought,
“Did someone else deserve it a little bit more?”
In the end, it’s not what’s important. Winning trophies and MVPs, of course that’s what I wanted and what I worked for. But once you get them, it’s like, what’s next? The hunger is insatiable.
Lacrosse isn’t forever, and neither is that fleeting moment of victory or praise. But the memories and relationships you build within the sport can be.
What I’m most proud of from my career is those friendships. There is a unique bond you build with someone whom you respect and are willing and ready to go to battle for on the field. I’ve taken pieces of wisdom from so many people that lacrosse has put in front of me, and those relationships that will flourish for a lifetime are the crown jewel of my career.
I have three kids now. My oldest, Ava, is a 9-year-old princess. Then I have my two boys, Jace and Jax, who are 3 and 1, respectively. They’re little bruisers already. Must take after their mother.
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Jace was supposed to start lacrosse this year, but COVID-19 will likely delay that to 2021. I want lacrosse to provide him with the same wisdom and experiences it did me.
When I was a kid, I thought I knew everything, so I wouldn’t listen to my parents.
“Sure, mom, you always say that.”
I’m sure many kids were the same. But when it came from a teammate, someone I really respected, it was different. When I had a teammate come out of their way to set me straight or put me back in line, I took notice.
I think every kid should be part of a team, a family, outside of their household. It teaches you life lessons you don’t learn on your own. You need someone else to give you that little bit of a push to find out where you stand. It teaches you off the floor how to present yourself, how to talk, how to change your look. Sports does that for young minds.
That’s what I got out of lacrosse, and that’s what I hope my children can get out of lacrosse. The game is everything to me, and it will always be an influence in my life.
All kids need their lacrosse. I’m lucky I found mine.
This article was originally published Oct. 27, 2020.