2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: A Fourth of July thank youUsually on the Fourth of July, I am in Vail, Colo., or some other exotic location covering lacrosse. I have been in Canada, Europe and Colorado for the last three holidays. This year I stayed home and actually watched no lacrosse. It was relaxing but I missed it. I actually wished for a few moments that I had made a trip this year, even with the high fuel prices and the rapidly crumbling reliability of the airlines. I imagined the game I'd most like to see on the Fourth - It was a Heroes vs. Heroes game on Long Island between a team of firemen and police officers and a team of alumni from the service academies.
There were some big stars in the game as many of the Long Island lacrosse families produce New York City firemen and policemen as prolifically as they do laxers. On 9/11, Long Island felt the pain as much as anyone or more. On the other team, I imagined captain John Fernandez, a superstar at Army, who is my greatest hero. The fact that he is on the field at all these days, playing the game he loves, makes my eyes swell.
Fernandez lost both of his legs, above the knee, in Iraq. I saw him at a Johns Hopkins-Army game the next year with his supporting wife (another hero) and was taken with them. He was the most positive person I had ever met and she was locked in next to him with unconditional love and pride. Seeing him in a wheelchair that day, shaking his hand and thanking him, touched me. It affected me. A few months later, still thinking about this man, I picked up the phone and dialed Jack Emmer, then the coach at Army and the only guy I knew who could hook me up with Fernandez. I had no idea how I could help, but I just unloaded my emotions on Emmer. I said that I was overwhelmed by Fernandez's sacrifice and that I would lose money to help him.
I could not afford to pay writers that much, but I would pay Fernandez to write about any topic in lacrosse just to keep him in the game and help him out. How na´ve I am. Emmer spits back at me something like "That's nice, John, but captain Fernandez is out playing lacrosse right now." I was, all at once, shocked and overjoyed. The young man had already been fitted with modern prostheses and had worked his way back to walking, running and even playing lacrosse. He needed no help from me. Just like with his service, he was the one helping me. I was changed in some small way - humbled, just knowing of his accomplishment. I could tell Emmer took some enjoyment in bursting my na´ve, self-important bubble and even that too feels good after the fact. He deserved that blatant affirmation of his life's mission; that joyful moment spawned from awful circumstances. Emmer coached servicemen most of his career, teaching sacrifice to men who used the lessons in battle to protect me.
So this Fourth of July, I'll simply thank the service academy players, coaches and staffs and the players who chose careers in law enforcement and public safety. You are lacrosse's biggest stars.
July 4, 2008