Healing through sport

Jeremy Thompson receives a warm welcome from Riverside School students Thursday. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Jeremy Thompson of the Saskatchewan Rush talks to students about the healing power of lacrosse

It hasn’t been an easy journey for Jeremy Thompson.

The Saskatchewan Rush transition player and defender has faced a long uphill battle in his life, but there’s one thing that’s always been there for him — lacrosse.

Thursday morning, Thompson visited Riverside school to share his story with the students, and to teach them a thing or two about the game that’s shaped so much of his life.

Thompson is Iroquois from Onandaga Nation in New York State, near Syracuse. He played lacrosse for Syracuse University in the NCAA, and was named all-American twice. He’s spent much of his professional career suiting up for the Rush. Professional lacrosse is in his blood, as his three brothers all play for the defending-champion Georgia Swarm.

But for Thompson, lacrosse is so much more than just a game.

“It has been a medicine for me,” Thompson said.

The spirit of the sport has flowed throughout his life, helping Thompson discover who he is, and eventually earning him a university scholarship and a professional career.

It also kept him on the right path. When he was just 12, Thompson had his first encounter with drugs and alcohol. He also struggled with suicidal thoughts.

“I was stuck in it,” he said. “It’s a scary life when you look back.” He’s since been sober for eight years.

“What kept me on my path was the game of lacrosse.”

Jeremy Thompson demonstrates some lacrosse technique during a workshop for Riverside School students on March 22, 2018. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Thompson also talked extensively about connecting with his heritage and learning to embrace who he is. Some of that is also through the sport of lacrosse, a traditional game played by First Nations across North America for centuries. He used the ancient story of how the game came about to teach the youth about embracing their differences.

The game was given as a gift from the Creator, to be played for his enjoyment and as a medicine game for healing the people. Long ago, a game took place between four legged animals and the winged birds.

Each of the animals had its own skillset it brought to the match. The bear could use its weight to overpower opposition, while the deer used speed and agility, and the owl who excelled in keeping his eye on the ball.

“(Lacrosse) has taught me a lot in my lifetime,” Thompson said. “Each and every person has a place on this team. Everyone specializes in a different thing. You all have many gifts.”

Thompson said spreading his message of reconnecting to your roots, overcoming obstacles and building your unique skills is a good way to give back to the community.

“I see myself as an uncle to a lot of these kids who may need it,” he said. “You never know if it’s a simple phrase you say or actions you take, or that feeling you give off. You never know what it could give that kid.”

He spoke about the impacts of drugs and alcohol on kids, and how if he can reach just one child, he’ll have done what he set out to do.

“My biggest message to these kids is to keep their ears open and be a sponge. It’s important … to be willing to learn,” Thompson said.

“I think that’s a part of our learning process in this lifetime, to go forward and be successful. To be a leader its important to learn from others and experience it in a good way and in a good mind.”

Jeremy Thompson of the Saskatchewan Rush helps Riverside School students with their lacrosse technique on March 22, 2018. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Riverside Grade 8 teacher Tanya Vancoughnett helped arrange Thompson’s visit. She said his message will hit home for several of the students.

“I wanted Jeremy to come today so he could send a message to the youth in regards to the healing powers this game has and the role model he is,” she said.

“We have a high percentage of students who have barriers and obstacles they have to face every day. Something like this would hit home with them because they are growing up in a life where they have tough circumstances. He talked a bit about drugs and alcohol and suicidal thoughts. Those are real issues our youth face today. As a teacher, I can remind students of his message. He’s a great roll model. If someone like him has experienced and overcame it, then we can learn from that.”

Thompson hopes his words of encouragement about being individual, accepting ones own special talents and constantly learning help shape students into future leaders.

“I feel like society teaches a lot of us to be followers, and do what other people are doing. It’s important to show and tell kids that it’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to believe and trust in yourself,” he said.

“I always try to stress working within yourself, building within yourself. The more you do that, you’ll be better off as a leader rather than a follower.

“Lacrosse truly has been a medicine for my people.”