Grant Hurting on Inside, Coaching on Outside
DENVER – John Grant Jr. says he is putting on a good face, working with Team Canada's offense as an assistant coach for the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship instead of playing as one of the team's primary threats.
He moved around the field during a two-hour practice at Denver University on Wednesday, wearing dri-fit apparel and sunglasses, dispensing knowledge to some of the multi-faceted players that will be counted on to fill his role starting with Thursday's opening game against the United States.
He was helping. But inside, he's hurting, and has been since he found out last Wednesday that the FIL denied his appeal for a therapeutic use exemption for prescription medication, including testosterone, that he started taking four years ago, about two years after a life-threatening infection attacked his surgically repaired knee in 2008.
The decision was upheld by the FIL, in conjunction with the World Anti-Doping Agency and an independent physicians' review of Grant's application. Testosterone is on WADA's banned substances list. Instead of electing to go off his medication, Grant withdrew from Canada's 23-man roster.
"I'm a good actor, but it stings, it hurts," Grant said after Canada's practice at Peter Barton Stadium on Denver University's campus. "It's the most devastating thing I've gone through in a while. It was like getting stabbed in the stomach. It's taken everything in me to put the great face on."
Grant, 39, said he never considered playing in the world championships without continuing his treatment, which helps him maintain a testosterone level that he said allows him to live a normal life, something that wasn't the case between 2008 and 2010, after a staph infection in his elbow and knee eventually required the already-repaired ACL in his left knee to be replaced.
"It's a condition that I've been dealing with for quite a while, and if I'm not dealing with it how the doctors have told me I should deal with it, I'm not in a good place," he said. "It's a very, very destructive place. For the health of myself and the well-being of my family, I had to do it. There wasn't a thought of going off it for the tournament. I probably wouldn't be playing for other reasons."
Mood swings and anger issues persisted back then, he said. His weight dropped to under 190 pounds, down from 230. He said at times he slept for 20 hours a day and had trouble leaving the house, falling into depression. Grant said doctors told him his testosterone level was so low that he had an increased risk of having a heart attack.
He said Wednesday he wasn't prepared to risk going back to that place, not now with a 4-year-old daughter.
|Instead of electing to go off
testosterone treatments after not being granted a medical exemption
by the FIL, John Grant Jr. withdrew from Canada's 23-man roster for
the 2014 World Championship. (Marc Piscotty)
If concussions sustained throughout a career that's included two National Lacrosse League MVP awards and three MLL MVPs played a role in the initial diagnosis, Grant isn't sure and said his doctors aren't either. Some studies have linked brain trauma to low testosterone.
"I was near death. Whether it was that or concussions, I don't know. They can't tell. They said you have this," he said. "I did months and months of testing. I tried to fight it. I didn't want to go on medication. I fought the doctors on it. It was forced upon me more than anything. I didn't want to do it, but with a young family, I had no choice."
Improvement started shortly after that decision in 2010, he said.
"I got on [the treatment] and slowly things started coming around mentally," he said. "It was mostly mental. It gave me the ability to go to work, leave the house. My job is to be in public with camps. I was afraid to teach kids lacrosse. It was that bad. A couple doctors got together and came up with a plan and it's really saved my life. I'm beyond devastated I can't play, but I have a quality of life that I never had for those couple of years."
Details of Grant's condition first became public during the Mann Cup in 2012, when he tested positive for a banned substances after Canadian Center for Ethics in Sports testing. His use of the prescription medication was later deemed valid by the CCES' medical review board, which determined Grant did not commit an anti-doping violation under the Canadian Anti-Doping Program and allowed him to continue to compete in Canadian national events.
"Going through it before with the CCES and getting permission, I was confident it was not going to be an issue. It was a shock to me," he said. "I don't think it's changed my physicality at all. I'm the same weight as I was before. I'm going through some horrible arthritic things. That infection basically was a time-bomb in my knee. It helped a little that way, where I'm not in excruciating pain."
Grant has competed for the Colorado Mammoth and MLL's Denver Outlaws while on the treatment. After spending three weeks in the hospital and going through rehab after the infection, he didn't play the 2009 NLL season with the Rochester Knighthawks and was acquired by the Mammoth in the fall of 2010, eventually setting the NLL single-season record for points with 116 in 2012.
He played only game for the then-Toronto Nationals of the MLL in 2009, before scoring 19 goals for the franchise in 2010, 12 goals for the Nationals and Lizards in 2011 after a mid-season trade and then enjoying an MLL renaissance with the Chesapeake Bayhawks in 2012 and 2013, scoring 20 goals in each of those season while winning MLL titles. He was traded to Denver, his adopted hometown, this offseason.
With the FIL seeking greater international status at the Olympic level, and WADA recognition being part of those requirements, Grant said he understood to a point the discussion around his situation. Team Canada general manager Dave Huntley said in press release on Friday announcing Grant wouldn't play in the world championships, "we will respect the decision of the Board knowing that this is in the best interest of John and his family." Huntley delivered the initial news to Grant when he was on the field in Dallas, Texas, teaching a camp.
"The T-word [testosterone] is a firestorm. I can understand," Grant said. "What I said was, 'Why don't you come test me now and test me next week?' The people that cheat, their levels skyrocket. I'm still not even to the level of a 40-year-old. I just want to try to get to that. I don't want to be 20, 25, I want to be 40. I can't live life in that much excruciating pain all the time.
"I've never gone off what the doctors have said. I know it's a dangerous thing; you don't want to mess around with it. People can think what they want. It saved my life. I almost died for this game before and I wasn't willing to do that this time."
Given all of that, Grant said he's grateful to the Canadian lacrosse program for allowing him to coach on the sideline during the tournament, held in his new hometown, where the Peterborough, Ontario-native and son of Canadian star John Grant has settled down and even earned dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship this year.
"This day was coming that I was going to be on the other side of the bench. I just wasn't prepared for it to be this one," Grant said. "I've worked harder than I've ever worked. I did everything necessary, moved here [to Denver] so I could be fully be in training. The devastation is not gone, but the fact of the matter is I can still play for the Outlaws, still play for my summer team, and still play for the Mammoth. I've got blessings from every other organization that I'm involved in. But this is the one I wanted.
"I spent my whole life with my old man's Team Canada jersey on my wall, trying to win. He won one, I won one. I wanted a second. I put a lot of eggs in this basket. I'm fortunate enough that Team Canada has been beyond supportive of me. The team is counting on me for leadership and some of that stuff, so that's first on mind, helping the team. Each day, I'm getting more involved that way."
Attackman Curtis Dickson said Grant addressed the issue with the team and teammates could see the disappointment on his face. All-World defenseman Brodie Merrill said, "There was initial shock and disappointment. Having Junior on your team, kind of exudes confidence. You kind of have to quickly turn the page. You can't dwell on it. I think it's been easier because of Junior. He's still very much involved, serving a really important role, acting between player and coach. Having him there makes you feel better. He's a witty guy; he's always keeping things light. Initially it was tough, but it's been easier with how everybody has responded and dealt with it."
Some of that humor occurred even while talking about his disappointment Wednesday, when Canada head coach Randy Mearns briefly interrupted to let Grant know the coaching staff was meeting in assistant coach Matt Brown's office at the Denver lacrosse facility, where Brown is a full-time assistant for the Pioneers. Grant said OK, he'll be there, and then asked Mearns to add him to the coaching staff's group texts, so he knows where and when to meet for practices or meetings, instead of hoping to run into assistants Brown, Taylor Wray or Gary Gait, for example, around the Denver campus.
"It's because we don't like you," Mearns said.
"Maybe I'll go join Hong Kong," Grant joked in return.
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