The Players: Heroes on and off the floor

The sound of the crowd roaring after a goal being scored, the horn going off and the music blaring. Those are the sounds the players love to hear at game time. But what about after a game? When the music stops, the last fan leaves, the lights shut off, and the locker room door closes. It’s back to reality for the players in the league.

The guys in the National Lacrosse League are not only heroes in the lacrosse world to the thousands of fans, but they are also heroes to our communities. Firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and doctors. These men are finding ways to keep fans engaged during the season, and saving lives at home. 

The balance between playing a professional sport and their everyday job is something most athletes do not have to go through, but this is what makes the league so special. These guys grew up playing the sport they loved, and are now fulfilling that dream of being a pro athlete, while also following dreams of protecting our communities. Here are just a few stories of the not only incredible athletes in the NLL, but also incredible people. 

Ryan Dilks, Saskatchewan defenceman started playing lacrosse at the age of 6, and has been in love with the sport ever since.

“Any young athlete will tell you that they dream about being a pro athlete one day and getting paid to play the sport you love,” Dilks said. 

“ Even though it’s only part time I still feel like I’m living the dream. To be able to travel across North America and play in front of thousands of fans every weekend is a feeling that never gets old.” 

With the NLL being part time, Dilks chose to enter the field of firefighting. He knew that out of high school he wanted to be a first responder and after speaking to a few local firefighters, he knew that was what he wanted to do. Both professions require a lot of similar skills in order to succeed. There is a ton of teamwork involved in both lacrosse and firefighting, but that isn’t all. 

“Lacrosse has taught me to be accountable for my actions and how to work together with my teammates,” Dilks said.  “That easily translates to firefighting. For example, at a working fire, everyone has a specific task and people are counting on your crew to perform that task. Preparation and training is very important in both fields and it’ll show if you haven’t.” 

Dilks isn’t the only firefighter in the league that has learned to translate skills from both professions into the other. 

Dan Dawson, longtime NLL legend and current Toronto Rock forward also spends a lot of time working at the firehall. Dawson comes from a family of first responders and actually went to school to be a police officer, until a trip to Arizona changed his mind. 

“I was out in Arizona pursuing my lacrosse career and we were doing some team building with the Phoenix fire department. An old San Francisco 49er was leading our training and he talked about how everything he did as an athlete translated to the firehall and that’s when I decided to join the fire department,” Dawson said.

Dawson has been playing lacrosse since the sixth grade and has been a force ever since joining the NLL in 2002. Dawson says that there are so many similarities between firefighting and playing pro lacrosse and they build off of each other to make him the best athlete and first responder. 

“At the hall you’re in a truck with three other people and in lacrosse you’re on the floor with four other guys. You’re always with people that you rely on. You have to be able to pick other people up and also count on them to pick you up. In both professions you’re playing for something greater than yourself and that is why both are so special,” Dawson said. 

Vancouver Warriors defenseman Matt Beers is a member of the Burnaby Fire Department and also knows the balance between being a first responder as well as being a professional lacrosse player. 

Beers grew up in Coquitlam, British Columbia (aka lacrosse hotbed of BC) and has been in love with the sport ever since. He grew up watching the Senior Adanacs and was always around the rink playing hockey until his father signed him up for lacrosse one summer and he knew that was the start of something great.

As well as starting a great lacrosse career at a young age, Beers also knew that he wanted to become a firefighter when he was growing up as well. 

“I was on a field lacrosse team growing up and there were a ton of guys who were six or seven years older than me, but they were all trying to get into the fire service. They were such great mentors for me and I really looked up to them so I decided that I wanted to get involved as well. They showed me all of the reasons why I wanted to get into firefighting,” Beers said. 

With the delay of the NLL season due to Covid-19, Beers has had a lot of time in the hall, as well as training for the upcoming season. Through it all, Beers has learned the skill of being flexible as well as mental toughness and how those strengths correlate to both professions. 

“Being flexible is critical in both professions. A call that changes often in the firehall or on the floor when teams throw in different plays; you have to be able to roll with the punches. That is something that I have learned throughout my life that has been emphasized through this all. Being able to work hard through adversity is super important as well. Everyone at the hall has gone through challenges they have had to overcome and in the lacrosse world there are constant challenges. Being able to have the mental toughness to deal with those bumps in the road is crucial to being successful,” Beers said. 

However, firefighting is not the only first responding profession that the NLL has a number of guys involved in. The league also has a number of paramedics, including Calgary transition player Mitch Wilde and Toronto defenceman Brandon Slade. 

Both of these guys grew up in Ontario, so it was obvious that they both started playing lacrosse at a young age. Similarly to previous guys, they had dreams of playing pro lacrosse from a young age.

“Lacrosse in Orangeville is everything. We are very lucky to have a handful of players that made it to the pro level that have paved the way for the next generation,” Slade said. “I always idolized these players growing up and wanted to follow in their footsteps. From as long as I can remember, it was always a dream to play in The NLL, especially for The Toronto Rock.”

At a time where COVID-19 has put everything on hold, the men in the paramedic field have been critical to this pandemics. Mitch Wilde knows the skills needed to succeed at both professions as well as how Covid-19 has impacted his careers. 

Wilde has been apart of the NLL since 2013 but has had a stick in his hand since he was little. He graduated university and went into sales, but decided that he wanted a career that was more fulfilling and he craved helping people. His friend mentioned he should become a paramedic and to this day Wilde knows that’s one of the best decisions he has ever made. With balancing both careers, there are skills that are necessary to succeed in both realms. 

“I think there is a lot that lacrosse offers that can relate to being a Paramedic. When I think about the preparation that goes into an NLL game, the game film, the scouting reports, the practices, working on your stick, working amongst a team, performing under pressure; a lot of that can relate to being a paramedic,” Wilde said. 

 “As a paramedic you’re always working with others, some calls can require a multitude of personnel, so teamwork is a massive part of the job. The preparation that goes into each shift; knowing your medical directives, medication dosages, treatment care plans, bypass agreements and being able to recall of these things in a matter of seconds when it could matter most to someone is a big part of the job. Both lacrosse and being a Paramedic require a great deal of preparation and high levels of competence.”

The past two years has been difficult on everyone, and has treated NLL players no different, but there is hope and Wilde knows that the time away has only given him the will to come back stronger. 

“I think one of the lessons I’ve learned through this Pandemic is to try and smile through adversity and enjoy the little things. Everyone is hurting these days, some more than others. I can see it at work, in my family and it’s a general consensus, life is tough right now. I try to find joy in each and everyday, challenge myself to be better and continue to grow in preparation for the 2021-2022 NLL Season,” Wilde stated.

We are all looking forward to the NLL season in December, and we are thankful that we have some of our star athletes protecting our communities and giving everyone hope for the future.

Maki Jenner

Maki Jenner