Jussi Grut has a hectic existence as he balances being a full-time second-year Journalism student at the University Arts London in Elephant and Castle with a career in Premiership Lacrosse.
Up to the age of six he was living in Canada and playing ice hockey. “I when I was three and I carried on playing until last year pretty much ,but when I was about 14 or 15, I watched a game of lacrosse in Canada and thought ‘I want to give this a try’,” he recalled.
“It was something on the side that was more for fun as the Ice hockey was pretty serious for me, but when I realised that I had gone as far as I could with hockey, I just started playing more lacrosse.”
It was a sporting switch which has paid off, and the 22-year-old is now receiving funding from the UAL Sports Scheme for elite athletes, despite the university not having a lacrosse team.
Jussi, who plays as a goalie, explained: “I was playing on the England Universities Lacrosse team, and people were putting the team sheet on their social media feeds. One of the sports guys at UAL saw it someone’s Instagram and messaged that person to tell me to get in contact about signing up for us this programme the university has.
“I didn’t even know that it existed until I got this message on Facebook that said you should sign up and we will see what we can do.”
Growing up in Canada, where ice hockey is akin to a national religion, Jussi’s first sporting hero was Roberto Luongo, at the time the starting goalie for the Vancouver Canucks.
“Luongo was also Team Canada’s goalie,” he explained. “Every time I needed to get new leg pads, I would get the same ones as him, that kind of stuff, and he was just a nice guy. The way he talked to his team-mates inspired me, and that taught me how I’d approach talking to mine.
“When I started getting into watching professional lacrosse in the States, I started following a guy called Jesse Schwartzman, who is one of the best goalies in the Major League Lacrosse. Also, when I was about 16, I started going to training sessions with the Wales national squad, not with any hopes of making the team but to just to improve, and two of the goalies were really good guys. Not professionals who were playing in the States, like Schwartzman, but at the time it was like wow!”
With no UAL lacrosse team to represent, Jussi has been playing for the London Raptors, who are currently bottom of the table after four defeats in four games, most recently losing 11-5 to Hampstead, who won the league last season.
Though they will have a real battle on their hands to stay in the division after winning promotion last season, the Raptors can hope for a better 2020 as they have already faced Walcountain Blues, Hitchin, Spencer and Hampstead – three of the four finished in the top four last season.
A normal week for the goalie consists of going to the gym twice sometimes three times, then he has training with the London Raptors squad on Friday nights in Canada Water. Matches tend to be on Saturdays, while on a Sunday there are try-outs – he aims to attend those held by Wales.
National recognition is on his radar, and when he discusses his biggest achievement so far he also lays out his ambitions.
“Getting scouted by Canada was big for me because that was the thing that I had set my sights on since I was a young hockey player. The dream was I want to get out of England and I want to play, and I did that. For lacrosse, though, I think it is just the next thing that comes along will be my greatest achievement.
“So far, it would be making the England universities team, or last year being in the Wales squad for the World Cup in Israel. I didn’t end up going because they took two goalies, not three, but it would have been a lot of money to go. I could have gone but I didn’t want to because it is self-funded and would have cost almost three grand to go and watch, basically.”
With the European Championships coming up next summer in Wrocław, Poland, the 22-year-old is hoping to make it again into the Wales squad but this time he believes he will be ready if he gets the call-up.
“I’m quite confident that I can make it, but as a goalie, there are a lot of different factors that coaches could take into account. For example, the first cut has already been done and they have cut it down to, I think, six of us, and I would say that I’m in a good position within those six. It depends whether the coach wants experience or a mix of younger and older players in terms of whether I make it to the tournament or not.”
On the global stage, the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) has met with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to lay out a way getting Lacrosse into the Olympic Games. Among followers of the sport, there is an expectation that by 2028, when Los Angeles host the Olympics, lacrosse will be back in the Games programme for the first time since 1908.
Jussi says: “I think if that happens then you never know how far the sport can grow. People might see it and be like ‘Oh yeah, let’s give that a try’. Team GB would be good team, and if it was on TV and kids in the UK saw British players competing against the best teams and doing well, then that would encourage them to start.”
For any interesting in giving lacrosse a go, Jussi says: “Just give it a go. I understand that it is not for everyone, but just go into it with an open mind. You might have to put up with a bit of stick to start with, and it is not something that you can pick up instantly. I remember when I first started, it was really frustrating because of the skillset that you need to even begin to start playing competitively.”
He added: “Once you get past that hurdle, it is amazing. It’s best if you can try and find clubs that are accommodating. Find one that has a second or a third team with its own training session, or even go and play with some of the mixed lacrosse teams. There is one called Rainbow Rexes, I think they play on Clapham Common every Sunday afternoon and it is just a pick-up, no contact, just throwing the ball and having a good time playing lacrosse.
“Once you have mastered the basics then you can look to move up into a bigger team, but if you don’t know how to throw or catch, then a Premiership team doesn’t want you there.”
Lacrosse photo by Doug Schveninger via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0