SIX NATIONS — Lacrosse player Bryson Knockwood grew up in Indian Brook, a Mi’kmaq First Nation community in Hants County, N.S., where he was known by his peers for a positive attitude and outgoing personality.
Despite being surrounded by a great group of friends and carving out a future that was becoming brighter each passing day, Knockwood couldn’t shake, nor understand a feeling of desolation he was experiencing on a regular basis — it was depression.
“I never talked about it and I didn’t really know what was going on until I found out in middle school when I had been feeling this way for years before,” said Knockwood, standing in the halls of Gaylord Powless Arena .
“I told my dad that this was the way I was feeling so we got tested and I was diagnosed with clinical depression.”
In Haudenosaunee culture, lacrosse is known as the “medicine game” or the “creator’s game” and is believed to have special healing powers for those who play.
With few role models to look up to and many people in his community suffering from substance abuse problems, Knockwood turned to lacrosse at a young age in order to find solace during moments of hardship.
“For me lacrosse is the medicine game and it healed me, I let it heal me, I let the creator heal what it had to heal, I understood that mental illness is not something that anyone should have to go through,” Knockwood said.
“That’s why I am comfortable talking about it — if I got through it I know anyone else can.”
Along with lacrosse, Knockwood was able to confide in his father, Brian, who works as an addiction-prevention counsellor in their home town. Brian exposed his son to the sport back in 2007 when the two took a trip to Halifax to watch the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships.
Being a counsellor, Brian has worked with many individuals battling mental health issues and when Bryson opened up to him about what he had been experiencing, he couldn’t ask for a better role model, friend and parent.
“It really opened my eyes to be able to see that he is able to help people and knowing that, I knew he could help me, and knowing that, I felt safe,” said Bryson. “He helped me through my darkest times, he was always there for me and is the most supportive father anyone could ask for.”
Cody Jamieson, the first overall draft pick in the 2010 National Lacrosse League draft, is looked up to immensely by many young lacrosse players such as Knockwood.
Jamieson runs suicide prevention workshops for indigenous youth and has used his platform effectively to create change, just as Knockwood one day hopes to do.
“He is my favourite lacrosse player, I wear his number 88, I fell in love with him and I want to be just like him,” said Knockwood. “He was a leader as assistant captain for the Rochester Knighthawks and I just thought why can’t I be like that? So he is my big role model.”
This past year, Knockwood played lacrosse at St. Francis Xavier University in Halifax and was named Rookie of the Year.
At NAIG, he captains Nova Scotia’s U19 lacrosse team and led them to their first Games victory in team history. Through it all, he continues to grow and develop as a person and is in a much better place today.
“There isn’t a day that I don’t love life anymore—I just love life every single day,” said Knockwood, with a smile — that same smile that refused to burn out, through it all.