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Off Island: Four Jamaicans Take First Flights for World Championships

Off Island: Four Jamaicans Take First Flights for World Championships

For four Jamaicans, the world has started and stopped on an island in the Caribbean. That changes this summer. Midfielders Alex Benjamin, Greg Powell, Ricardo Scarlett and Donahugh Simpson will leave Jamaica for the first time when they go to Israel in July for the 2018 World Championships.

Seven continents, five oceans, two hemispheres and one earth. But for four Jamaicans, the world has started and stopped on a 4,200 square mile island in the Caribbean.

That changes this summer.

Midfielders Alex Benjamin, Greg Powell, Ricardo Scarlett and Donahugh Simpson will leave Jamaica for the first time in their lives when they come to Israel in July to represent their country in the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships.

“Mind-boggling,” Benjamin, 20, said. “That’s a good way to put it.”

With the physical expansion of their worlds will come a mental expansion, introducing them to a culture and lifestyle they know nothing about. All four admitted to ignorance of Israel, with the media and Bible acting as their main sources of information, but all four can’t wait to nix their naivety.

“I’m actually counting down the days and the months,” Powell, 23, said. “I’m speeding up time for this opportunity to leave Jamaica for the first time.”

Off Island: Four Jamaicans Take First Flights for World ChampionshipsEven without expectations, these four Jamaicans have big plans. Scarlett, 21, aims to visit Jerusalem. Powell’s priority is finding a bright beach to kick back. Simpson, 17, has his eye on Israeli cuisine. Benjamin wants every experience under the Middle Eastern sun.

“All of them. Every single one,” Benjamin explained. “I want to take in everything. I don’t want to go there just to stay in some hotel. I want to be outside talking to people. If I need Google translate, I will.”

Their teammate, midfielder Khristian Marley, 19, has left the island. His travels have taken him to the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and the United Kingdom, and as Bob Marley’s grandson, he has been otherwise exposed to the outside world. From his own experience, he knows how much his teammates will grow from this trip.

“They have a lot to learn,” Marley said. “Even in terms of the traveling aspect, they will learn what it’s like to go through an airport, to go through your own airport and land in a foreign country, what it’s like to be on a plane, turbulence and all those things.”

As Marley said, before bumming at the beach or tasting the local treats, the four will have to fly for hours. For someone who has never been on a plane, it can be an anxious experience.

“I’m going to be scared about it because the plane will actually lift up,” Powell said. “I don’t know how it might be. I don’t know if it’s going to be okay with me for the first time.”

Off Island: Four Jamaicans Take First Flights for World Championships

One thing Powell can expect is his teammate ready to record his reaction.

“I’m definitely looking forward to hopefully getting some funny videos,” Marley said. “Being from Jamaica, we have personality, so it should be funny if they’re experiencing excitement or fear or whatever. We’re a very expressive set of people.”

A large part of the players’ excitement also comes from what they’re traveling for. The 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championships will be the biggest ever, hosting 48 nations in the first World Championships held outside of the Anglosphere. Many Jamaicans leave the island at some point in their lives for work or travel, but few leave as ambassadors for the black, green and gold on an international stage.

“I feel very honored,” Simpson said. “It’s not leaving for a resort like Disney World. It will be for a purpose. I’ll be representing my country, and that’s a good reason to start my traveling.”

Lacrosse is relatively new to Jamaica. The program gained FIL membership in 2013, and not too long ago the idea that lacrosse could help show a Jamaican the world was impossible. But now with the team set to play in its first World Championships, it’s possible.

When Benjamin first started lacrosse five years ago, those he passed with his lacrosse stick would meet him with anything from confusion to contempt. He was sometimes asked if he was going to catch fish with his “fish net,” with some people pairing the question with raised eyebrows and others with malicious smirks. Before committing to the sport himself, even Benjamin’s respect for the game was low.

Off Island: Four Jamaicans Take First Flights for World Championships

But Benjamin is no longer mistaken for a fisherman when he practices outside of his house. In fact, he’s become a local celebrity of sorts. His community knows him as the local lacrosse player who has worked hard at his craft, and that this is allowing him a chance to see a part of the world an entire ocean away. He is sometimes literally offered free fruits for his labor, and his neighbors have discussed voyaging to watch him play in person.

“It’s just all unexpected because I picked up a stick randomly one day, and five years later I’m leaving the country to play that exact same sport that I thought was a complete joke at first,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin and his teammates are having the last laugh, but they know that if they can do it, so could any other Jamaican willing to dedicate himself or herself to lacrosse. Scarlett’s main takeaway from this ride is that anyone can do it.

“I’m proud of myself for being able to make it,” Scarlett said. “I’d say to others who have the vision: keep practicing, keep working hard and one day it’s going to come.”

For those who heed Scarlett’s words, they could wake up to the same reality of the four future international travelers.

“It’s a perfect dream,” Benjamin said.

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