Lacrosse Heroes – Rick Passfield

When I thought of creating this category my intent was to speak to as many lacrosse heroes as possible that played the game from the past. I still have that thought in mind, and we will be bringing that to you in future weeks.

However, in the first of the “Lacrosse Heroes” articles I wanted to speak of a young man, who certainly was a Hero to many youngsters, but more importantly was a Hero for what he did in the game and who he was as a person; Rick Passfield.

Rick passed away at the age of 21 from a little known heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy (HCM), while practicing Field Lacrosse at Bellarmine University in Kentucky. It is somewhat astounding when you consider the effect this young man had on our game, and those that he reached with his efforts as a player, mentor, and simply being an ambassador of the game of lacrosse; all of this prior to his 22nd birthday.

I first knew Rick when I saw him playing lacrosse in Tyke at the age of eight. “Tuggy” as his team mates called him, was a big goalie that other teams used to get annoyed with because they could not score on him. He was a big boy, but a happy kid that seemed to love being in net. That passion stayed with him until his passing.

I was able to talk with Rick’s mom Sheila over the last few days, and she agreed to post some Q & A’s on the site……

GM: Joel Johnson and a local group of volunteers are putting together a tournament in Rick’s memory and to fund research for (HCM). This is certainly a tribute to what kind of young man he was.

SP: It’s hard to put into words just how much it means to Jordan and me that these people are willing to do something of this magnitude for Rick. When Joel and Linda (Hurran) approached me, to say I was “blown away” would be a massive understatement. Overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to cover the emotion that hit. To know that Rick meant enough to others that they would give their time to do something like this in his memory, honouring his life – well, words are just not enough.

GM: I knew Rick and know that he did a lot for many in the game of lacrosse, volunteering his time to help out. For those that don’t know, what are some of the organizations or centers that he helped out at?

SP: Rick loved helping out in the lacrosse community – and not necessarily just Whitby. He was invited one year to fill a gap for “goalie instruction” at the Redmen camp and he returned to the camp for I believe it was 3 years. He also helped put together day camps in Halton Hills – he played a season of Men’s Field for the Bulldogs with Andrew Glen and Eric Howe also making the trip with him. During the lacrosse season, coaches/managers would call and ask him to come out and help their box lax goalies in practice … and that’s where you’d find him in his spare time … there were many nights my basement was turned into a “fitting room” – kids would come over with their equipment and Rick would spend hours fitting it properly, and showing the kids proper “stance” etc. I supplied the food, hair dryer and oven and those kids seemed to enjoy just hanging out. Even the Durham Women’s Lacrosse League had some help from Rick. When the league was “born” – I was approached to help organize it … I roped Rick and Jordan in with me and we made it a family night. Talk about role reversal, Rick and Jordan watching me play – Rick was my coach and Jordan was my ball/water boy … a lot of fun … one of the other girls, Traci Torrance used to come over, pull her little jeep into my backyard so they could use the lights, and Rick would spend hours outside with her in the net, just firing balls and correcting / helping her with her “technique”… again, a lot of fun.

His High School Guidance Counsellor also recruited Rick to help with some instruction for one of the Clarington Minor Green Gaels teams.
When Rick was in Kentucky, he helped run a day camp in Louisville and also coached a middle school boy’s lacrosse club – he truly enjoyed that. I think he most enjoyed helping the younger kids – whether it was box or field –

GM: What is your most memorable game that Rick ever played in?

SP: Talk about a hard question … it’s a toss up between his first ever Provincial Championship win in Orillia and the series against Onondaga when he played with the Green Gales that would ultimately lead to the Gaels success in winning the Founders Cup/Trophy.

The game in Orillia in the summer of 1999 was intense. Final game against St. Catherine’s – back and forth by a goal all game … down to the crunch -winner takes Gold — the clock was at 10 seconds. – I’m sitting in the stands with Cathie Glen, St. Kitts is up one goal …it’s not looking good – Wayne Colley and Ian Wailes are quiet over on the bench – our kids are scrambling for possession – then the St. Kitts crowd starts the final countdown in the stands – 10-9-8 .. they are getting to their feet …Cathie and I are just gripping our hands together – praying for the ball to make the right bounce into the right stick …. the St. Kitts goalie takes his attention from the floor and is WATCHING the clock count down towards their championship win … its all but in the bag for St. Kitts … then Rick charges out of the net, scoops the ball and makes a long pass up to Josh Colley …. time on the clock was about 5 seconds …talk about feeling like you’re in slow motion but the clock is in fast forward …. Josh picks the ball out of the air … next thing you know… the ball is behind the goal line … we had tied it up with 2.8 seconds on the clock. Cathie and I are jumping and crying in the stands; our two boys had never won a Provincial Gold before in box … and now we were heading into Overtime … i spent the next couple of minutes outside – tensed up and sick – it all came down to the next few minutes … well, happy endings for Whitby – we won in overtime … his first GOLD – I’ll never forget that moment or how happy he was. His championship ring was engraved with “2.8 seconds” on the inside band as a reminder that the game isn’t over until that final buzzer goes.

The series against Onondaga was a gruelling one … last round of playoffs … double overtime, extreme heat … the final game between two amazing teams … incredible skill competition between the two clubs … Rick played one of the best series I had ever seen – his team was on fire and he wasn’t making many mistakes in the crease … he was so focused and determined … I was in awe – his whole being was consumed with coming out with a win that series…. it was probably one of the only times he was quiet at home for any length of time – until they got the win … after that, I don’t think he came down out of the clouds for days … he was so pumped !! Now, he was sure they were going to take the Canadian Championship…

GM: Only the local lacrosse folk might know this, but you donned the goalie gear and played a couple of seasons in the local ladies league ( yourself. Did you get any pointers and is there a come back in the works?

SP: As i mentioned earlier, Rick was instrumental in my playing. I figured that fair is fair … I was in the stands his whole career, watching, cheering, critiquing and yet I had never picked up a stick. So, we switched roles. He laughed so hard the first time I picked up his stick … he was a left therefore he figured I should be a left shot … nope, I could only handle that stick to the right. I used his equipment which was swimming on me … so he used duct tape to hold it together on me … I looked like the Michelin Man … I couldn’t see my feet or grip the stick with his gloves… everything seemed so bulky … he dressed me up and basically all but led me out to the side of the garage where he had taped the dimensions of a net … he had me practice hitting the butt of my stick against little markers he had taped up as my “positioning” points … was he patient ??? … Well, when he finished laughing at me, perhaps – i kept falling over every time i moved, but he’d help me up and we’d start all over again…. then he started firing balls at me …at least it felt that way, but he was only lobbing them…. he told me I couldn’t expect to play net with my eyes closed … I tell you. I was afraid he might resort to duct taping my eyes open … my first game he was busting with pride and also cringing – it was so funny – I don’t know who was more nervous, me or him… Here Rick is giving me the “pre-game” pep talk, being serious about “just have fun, don’t worry etc ” – Jordan just thought the whole thing was a riot and offered his own words of advice to me … “Don’t worry mom, how good can they be … maybe the other team won’t even get the ball near your net …it’s the best you can hope for” … Warmed my heart!
Neither boy ever missed one of my games … it was family night out where they got to laugh at mom but Rick always told me he was proud of my efforts. When my team won our “Championship” in a shootout our first year (I only let 1 of 5 shots in) – Rick and Jordan were hopping around just like Cathie and I had done in Orillia … you would think we had just won a Mann or Minto cup… I think the boys were as surprised as I was that I could actually stop a ball.
The memories I have of that time in our lives are so special. Some of the girls ask me if I want to come back – and I do … I’m just not ready yet … but I have the equipment ready for when and if I make my “comeback” in net.

GM: What makes you most proud today when you think of your son?

SP: My Rick made me proud each and every day of his life just by being the person he was. He was my best friend that never let me down, he took it upon himself to be the “father-type” role model/figure for Jordan when he didn’t have to, he never complained when things got tough – he just dug deep down and worked with me to make our family life the best it could be for the three of us. He went to school full-time, worked almost full-time hours, stayed committed to his own personal goals, even when it would have been easier to give up and never, ever complained. He always had time for others, even when he didn’t have time for himself. He was so giving and selfless – and overall, he was genuinely grateful for all that he had. He never gave up – and his heart was so big. He totally embraced the Green Gaels motto of ” Family, Honour, Pride, Tradition” – his family was everything to him – everyone knew that. I used to tell him that things (both good and bad) happen for a reason; just sometimes the reason isn’t clear. When he was red-shirted his first year at Bellarmine, he could have come home – wanted to come home – but he and I talked for hours and I told him that he needed to find the “bigger” reason for his being barred from playing … and he did … he made himself a position with the team as manager, videographer etc … yes, it bothered him that he couldn’t play or practice in any team sanctioned event but he made the best of a bad situation … focused on getting good grades and becoming an ambassador of sorts to the other students having a rough time adjusting to University life. That was my Rick … he was and remains both mine and Jordan’s hero.

GM: Lastly, it has been roughly 16 months since Rick’s passing. How are Jordan and mom doing today?

SP: Jordan is doing amazingly well. We talk about Rick all the time and share our memories. Rick is a daily part of our lives. I think Jordan is dealing with his loss far better than I could have ever expected. He is so proud of Rick and all he accomplished and he wants to do the same, for himself but also for his brother.
Rick’s remains are here in our home, and I sit with him most nights and remember. His jersey is framed and is on my dining room wall – pictures of my boys surround the room … I still can’t bring myself to go to a Junior or Senior Lacrosse Game – it’s too difficult because Rick should be there, but he isn’t. I’ve tried to go and watch the other boys but I have to leave. I used to help out at the Rock games, but I haven’t since Rick left us. I guess it’s just going to take time. I enjoy being with Jordan at his games, but it’s still difficult to go because Rick was such a big part of Jordan’s lacrosse. Rick’s friends are still a daily fixture in our lives – dropping in, calling, and spending time with Jordan … that in itself helps. Jordan said something to me during one of my “moments” – he hates that I cry – and for such a young guy it was pretty profound … he asked me “Why are you just sad that he died, can’t you be happy that he lived?” … that made me stop and think and gave me a whole new perspective. Just goes to show the perspectives a 14 year old can have on life.
The tournament that Joel and Linda are organizing gives me something “positive” to focus on when anyone asks me how we are … our world shattered on the morning of October 31, 2005 but as I used to tell Rick, things happen for a reason … I guess I’m still looking for the “reason” ….

GM: It is a tragedy that many cannot begin to imagine, and never wish to experience. I really thank you for this time, and very much look forward to seeing you at the 1st Annual tournament this summer.

SP: Thanks Gary for caring enough to give your time and to include Rick and the tournament on your site.

NOTE: There was much discussion, as expected about how a young man, 21 years old, passes away for no apparent reason. There were discussions and rumours about Rick using performance enhancers, illegal substances, etc, etc.  While this is no doubt an issue with young people in sports today, Rick’s toxicology reports confirmed that (and those that really knew Rick would know this) there was nothing abnormal in his system. This was a medical condition that was never detected.

It is Sheila’s hope, as well as that of many others, that this sort of condition can come to light, and we can begin to test young people for this fatal disease. If only one person can be saved through testing, then it is all worth it.


1 Comment

  1. Good Post, I miss tuggy

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