Everything You Didn't Know About Being Pro

Part I: Travel & The Boys

by Mitch Belisle | May, 2016
 

When people find out I play professional lacrosse for the Georgia Swarm and the Boston Cannons, they are usually surprised to learn that I live in Brooklyn, NY.  “But when do you practice?” is the common first question of many. On Friday Nights. “Why do you live in Brooklyn?” Because I have a full-time job based there. “Do your teams handle travel and lodging?” Yes.  Because the inquisition (and their interest) typically ends there, most people don’t hear about the fun and hijinks that go hand in hand with the constant travel.   

I am writing this article on a flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson.  I typically fly with the “NY Crew” consisting of myself, David Earl and Joel White. In addition to catching up about the week, work, and our upcoming game, we often share a meal at the airport (shout-out to Crust in terminal D!) and argue over our Delta Skymiles statuses – each of us vying for that elusive free first class upgrade. To date, Joel is the only “Gold” member of the bunch; I need 2 more flights to get to his level, while Dave typically gets sequestered to the back of the plane as he works towards silver from “peasant status”... 

So, how does it work? Not the airline’s reward status, but a week(end) in the life of a 2-city, weekend-warrior, professional athlete? Well, it involves a fair amount of logistics. Thankfully, most of this is undertaken by the teams with coordination at the beginning of the season. The standard weekend involves taking a cab to the airport on Friday afternoon around 3pm. I meet up with the “NY Crew” and we share our dinner, snack and laughs. We then make the 2-hour flight to Atlanta where we convene with several other teammates flying in from other cities (usually Toronto, eh?). With the Canucks in tow, we jump on a mini-bus (always driven by a real character) and head to Friday night practice. We check into the hotel (our home away from home), get a good nights’ sleep (in a bed next to a roommate – see below) and then wake up Saturday morning for GAME DAY. A majority of the team usually assembles for breakfast before our mandatory shoot-around at the arena (around noon). Team lunch (shout-out to Qdoba for the extra Guac!) sets the stage for a quick nap at the hotel and then it is back to the rink for warm ups and the game. 

Having a roommate on the road can be a big adjustment for certain people.  Married guys may room with single guys who are looking to have a good time after a big win. One roommate may want it Sahara-hot in the room while the other (myself included) might opt for the Antarctica setting. And deciding what to watch on TV, or more importantly when to turn the TV off, has led to more scraps than on-floor slashes. But no roommate situation creates more conflict than being paired up with the dreaded loud-snorer. We won’t name names, but let’s just say a certain scrappy faceoff guy has been known to saw logs into the wee hours of the morning. I found that hucking a pillow at the offending snorer does wonders (sorry/not sorry for the face full of feathers, Farrell)! But typically, time on the road with a roommate is a blast.  You get to know guys’ home lives, more about their personalities and what has made them the teammate and person they are.

Let me be clear: life on the road isn’t always fun and pillow talk. There are flight delays that last into all hours of the night. Traffic and missed flights. Equipment bags get lost or delayed. And of course there is the time spent away from your own home, bed and loved ones. Plus, wake-up calls at ungodly hours signal the beginning of the end of a professional lacrosse weekend.

For a 7am flight you need to arrive at ATL airport at 5:30am. With the hotel being 45 minutes north, that means a cab departing at 4:45am. Some guys are so amped up after a game they elect to forgo sleep altogether for fear of missing their flight. I have seen others arrive at the airport nice and early only to fall asleep at the gate, with fellow passengers literally stepping over their prone bodies to board. Catching up on a few more Z’s as the plane brings us home eases the journey back to real-life, and a short 20-minute cab ride from LGA upon landing is the only final step remaining. The suitcase and equipment get unpacked, the superman suit goes into the closet and our 5-day “return to normalcy” begins anew, until next Friday when, fingers-crossed, we’ll finally get that free first-class upgrade. 

The Swarm players enjoying a not-so-friendly game of ping pong.

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