So one, among a myriad of interests that I have, is reading.
Often that dovetails nicely with my passion for sports, as there are numerous books written by and about athletes I have followed through the years. Almost all are non-fiction, and those have usually been the books I have read, and some I have shared here over the weeks.
But, occasionally a sports fiction book catches my attention, as was the case with Medicine Game the first book I read this year.
The book is about lacrosse -- the field version -- or at least the sport permeates the rest of the story related by author Delby Powless.
In this case it's important to recognize who Powless is, because his knowledge of the game makes the book read as a real story -- in particular in-game scenes that you know Powless has lived through many times once you read his bio.
Powless is a Mohawklacrosseplayer from the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nationnear ON. He is the grandnephew of Ross Powlessand cousin of Gaylord Powless, both of whom are in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
The game is very much his heritage.
Powless also played the game at its highest levels including with the Buffalo Banditsof the National Lacrosse Leagueand the now defunct Hamilton Nationalsof Major League Lacrosse.
In 2003, Powless received the Tom Longboat Awardas the top male Aboriginal athlete.
So when Powless writes about lacrosse it comes from a place of knowledge and respect for the game.
While lacrosse very much permeates Medicine Game there is more to the story.
Set in the recent past on the fictional Sparrow Lake Nation it is a story of Tommy Henry’s life on the Reservation.
"Events from Tommy’s childhood lead him down a path of violent outbursts that troubles him throughout his young life. The very same outbursts he saw from his father Beau,” notes the book synopsis.
"Tommy finds solace in the friendships he develops with his lacrosse teammates. He finds that the game of lacrosse is where he can go to let out the emotions, he has hidden deep inside him. Unfortunately, Tommy turns to heavy drinking and violence to help forget the issues he had hoped to leave in his past. Tommy’s friends and his love for the game of lacrosse keep him balanced for most of his life, but a time comes when he is forced to deal with his past demons. Beau soon must help his son fight the same battle he faced as a young man.
"The people of the Sparrow Lake believe that the game of lacrosse was a gift given to them by the Creator. It was meant to be played with a good mind and strong heart. They believe that when they play the game the Creator smiles and blesses them with good health. That is why lacrosse is known to them as Medicine Game. Embracing a good mind and strong heart, Tommy must come to terms with his childhood problems and find a way to heal before he hurts himself and those he loves."
Given the storyline it is natural to think author Powless has woven much of himself into the story, and a recent interview confirmed that was very the case.
The story is one Powless had worked on in one form or another for years before it was finally published in 2020.
"I actually wrote it as a screen play quite a few years ago," he said, adding the response at the time was "a lot of thanks, but no thanks," when he shopped it around.
At this point I will interject that while crunching the story into a movie might well leave a lot of interesting characters and storylines on the cutting room floor I told my better half once the book was finished that Medicine Game would be a great TV series; something in the tradition of North of 60 with a touch of 21 Thunder mixed in. It would be an ideal production for CBC or APTN.
Powless said after the initial lack of interest the script "was shelved for a long time."
But, he eventually returned to it to create the book, a process that was in part a cathartic process for him.
"There was a mental health aspect for me," he said, adding he faced his own low points and when those occurred he became reflective "of some of the stuff we used to do as kids."
A lot of that 'stuff' made its way into Medicine Game with parts of people Powless knows making their way into key characters such as 'Weasel' a usually well-meaning, but usually in some trouble friend of the main character.
"He's (Weasel) pretty much everybody's favourite (character)," said Powless. "I had a fun time writing him up."
Powless said Weasel is made up from "five, or six of my friends ... I grew up with."
Hazel Blackwater is a pivotal character in the story, a woman who faced the worst of life and survived to aid others. She too is a character made up of people the author knows.
"She's a few different people ... the type of people in our community who really want to help people heal," said Powless.
And then there are elements of the author in the story too.
"Parts are autobiographical," he said, adding it was natural to incorporate elements of life he has experienced.
The element of being good as a team and yet not getting the biggest prize is also something Powless draws on his own experience to write about. He played on a Junior team; the Arrows, that looked ready to win it all.
"It was a really good group but we never did win the Minto Cup," he said, adding he played on the team for five years "and we never were able to pull it off."
The Minto Cup is awarded annually to the champion junior men's box lacrosse team of Canada. It was donated in 1901 by the Governor-General, Lord Minto.
At times Medicine Game might be accused of being a bit predictable, teams losing at times as expected, or by contrast winning. And some of the related stories; alcoholism and abuse might seem clichéd.
Yet in this case they resonate as true and are recognizable as being important to reinforce the situation that has too-long existed.
"I just wanted to make it a good story," offered Powless, but then reiterated there is an element of dealing with issues that impact mental health too.
In creating a 'good story' Medicine Game does go into some dark places, residential school abuse, and the impact of drinking being a couple of examples.
Powless said that side of the story needed to be told too. "I think it's kind of what you have to do," he said, adding you can't tell the good without holding it up to a mirror to see the bad too.
Alcoholism, abuse, the lingering effects of residential schools "are real issues in First Nations communities," said Powless, adding facing the bad is "the recovery part" in terms of mental health too.
In terms of health lacrosse has always played a role in First Nation communities where the sport has long flourished.
"Kids have lacrosse sticks in their cribs," said Powless. ". . . It's something we definitely take pride in ... in how well we can play the game. It's something really big in communities."
Increasingly, lacrosse is being seen as an avenue to other things too, in particular further education through college scholarships.
"I think that door has been opened ... that eyes are opened to that possibility," said Powless who played two years at Rutgers University himself.
The game also builds community.
"A lot of the great people I've met are because I played lacrosse," he said.