Panama

LtN Impact: Physical Limitations Can't Limit Eybar

LtN Impact: Physical Limitations Can’t Limit Eybar

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Eybar arrived to the Bocas Community Center where we hold practices one afternoon in November with his brother. It was during a group trip, and I was sitting on the porch of the community center with Karen (one of our volunteers visiting with the group).  Karen noticed Eybar eagerly watching everyone play pick up before practice, so she asked him if he was interested in playing. Eybar shook his head “no”.

Polaroid photos of Caroline, Karen, and Eybar on Eybar’s first day of lacrosse in Bocas del Toro.

Polaroid photos of Caroline, Karen, and Eybar on Eybar’s first day of lacrosse in Bocas del Toro.

I should probably mention before moving forward with my story that Eybar has physical limitations, but by no means do they limit him. Eybar uses a wheelchair.

Not being able to communicate in Spanish, Karen used creativity to express a powerful message to Eybar. She pulled up a video from youtube of wheelchair lacrosse and we asked if he would watch with us. Eybar began watching the video and his eyes lit up with excitement.  He became so engrossed in the video that he leaned over to get closer to the screen and almost fell into Karen’s lap. Seeing the enormous smile on Eybar’s face almost brought tears to my eyes, I had never seen someone become so empowered by something.

After watching the video, we asked Eybar again if he wanted to play.  This time he responded by immediately reaching for my stick. I put him in his wheelchair and took him out to the beach so he could experience the new game he just discovered.

We started out with everyone’s favorite drill, steal the bacon. At first, Eybar asked me if I would wheel him around. I gladly accepted his request and when his number was called, I would wheel him out to go after the ball. His determination was striking.  I could not keep up. He was so fierce, constantly wanting to attack and go after the ball. After that drill my face hurt from smiling and laughing so hard. It was such a joy seeing Eybar having what seemed like the time of his life. It didn’t take long until he took the field on his own.

“After a water break, I asked if he wanted to play in the scrimmage. He replied that he wanted to sit out for a little. Only five minutes later came the most powerful moment I may have witnessed.”

Eybar - AKA the Ninja in Goal.

Eybar - AKA the Ninja in Goal.

After a water break, Eybar was watching the scrimmage from the sideline when I noticed his face overcome with this determined look.  He slowly removed himself from his wheelchair and grabbed a stick from the bag. He was heading to the field. You could see it in his eyes, he was not stopping until he got to our 3x practice goal. When he arrived at the cage, he positioned himself in front of the net, declaring himself the designated goalie for the rest of practice. Every time someone came up with the ball he immediately shouted, demanding the ball in his stick. He would dive to save shots, eager to get the ball any point it was remotely close to him. This kid was a ninja.

After practice was over, I went to sit on the steps.  Eybar came over with an orange and sat next to me asking if I would like to share with him.  We sat on the steps for a couple minutes just talking and eating the orange, when suddenly I felt arms clench around my waist.  He leaned closer to my ear and said, “gracias”. I struggled to hold back tears.

This is a moment I will hold on to for the rest of my life. There were many factors that led to Eybar’s discovery that day, from our determined and caring volunteers to our supportive players who now call themselves Eybar’s teammates. If not for Karen’s brilliant idea, Eybar may have never included himself in practice that day.

Teammate and friend, Anthony, posing with Caroline and Eybar after practice.

Teammate and friend, Anthony, posing with Caroline and Eybar after practice.

Watching Eybar transform from a discouraged kid to a fearless warrior on the field reminded me of what this program means and why it started. Sure, the sport itself is fun. But, it is so much more than that. I love getting to teach lacrosse in a community that has no prior knowledge of what the sport is.  From my time here in Panama, I see examples of it every day. We use this sport to empower and motivate kids like Eybarto believe in themselves and build the confidence to try new things.

— Caroline Rath, LtN Panama Program Director

A Letter of Thanks: Will Cogan on his Trip to Panama

My name is Will Cogan and I am a senior defenseman at Christopher Newport University. A few weeks ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to travel to Bocas del Toro, Panama to work with kids and spread the game that I love. I did this with teammates and members of the Washington & Lee men’s and women’s lacrosse team.

Will and CNU teammate, Miles, coaching some beach lax in Bocas.

Will and CNU teammate, Miles, coaching some beach lax in Bocas.

This experience is something that I will never forget. In my 15 years of playing lacrosse, this was by far the most rewarding, humbling, and unforgettable experience I have had in the game of lacrosse. Each day we woke up with the opportunity to positively impact high schoolers and young kids with the game that we love so much. Knowing that every day would give us an opportunity to teach a game that these kids have never seen before seemed challenging at first, but once we had the stick in our hands it was just like any other day for us. We got to teach kids how to catch, throw, scoop ground balls, and even fun games like hungry hungry hippo. Whether it was at the local high school or at the Give & Surf community center on the beach it was a week filled with smiles, laughs, and a whole lot of fun.

Will testing out his goalie skills alongside fellow volunteer and W&L Women's Coach, Erica.

Will testing out his goalie skills alongside fellow volunteer and W&L Women's Coach, Erica.

I want to express how thankful I am of the Lacrosse the Nations staff (Caroline and Brooke) and the Give & Surf staff (Drew and Taylor) for giving us such an amazing experience. Drew and Taylor taught us so much about the communities of Bocas and Bastimentos, and as took us on many adventures that I will never forget. Brooke and Caroline showed us that you do not need to speak the same language in order to connect with young kids and teach the game that we love.

I hope that LtN can continue to grow their programs in Bocas del Toro, and that it remains a place to go for years to come. I STRONGLY encourage any lacrosse player, coach, or fan to go on a trip with Lacrosse the Nations, to experience what its like to give back to a sport that has given us so much. Thank you LtN and Give & Surf.

 

- Will Cogan

CNU Mens Lacrosse '19