Few, if any, Canadians would be surprised to learn that one of their greatest athletes, a man who played Canada’s national game, still holds more than 20 records and won several championships, goes by the name of Wayne, and whose last name starts with G. The athlete is not Wayne Gretzky, but rather Wayne Goss, arguably one of the finest lacrosse players in the long history of the sport. Between 1968 and 1981, Wayne tallied an astounding 612 goals and 799 assists for 1,411 points in only 335 regular season games. But statistics and records do not begin to tell the story of this ordinary superstar.
Wayne, born on March 13, 1947, was raised, along with his sister and three brothers, by his mother in New Westminster. Though he was a standout athlete from a young age, Wayne believes now that his absent father had plenty to do with his interest in sports.
“I played basketball, track, soccer and field lacrosse at school and baseball, box lacrosse and hockey as well,” he says. “All of my coaches were like surrogate fathers to me. I imagine I was craving that father figure in my life, though that was not a conscious decision that I made. I realized at a young age that sports were something I could do very well, so that got me interested. I received lots of awards and recognition.”
Though he was an excellent baseball player during his Little League years, when he got to the next level they told him he had to choose either baseball or lacrosse.
“It wasn’t a hard choice because I loved lacrosse so much,” says Wayne. “By far, it was my most favourite sport. Right from the time I was 12 years old I knew that lacrosse was it. When I was a young boy, I used to go and sell peanuts at the games so I could get in for nothing. I did most of my selling during intermissions so I could watch as much of the games as possible. It was very neat to be able to meet the players and get close to them. It was because of them that I always took the time to sign autographs for the kids when I was playing.”
Though lacrosse would become what he was most famous for, Wayne had other concerns as a young man. At 21, he found himself married with a young daughter and no job prospects, as he had never really considered anything other than lacrosse while growing up.
“The Shmyr brothers owned a construction job and ran a hockey team. I told Tony, ‘I need a job, you need a hockey player.’ I played with them and he got me a construction job.”
Wayne went to carpentry school and got his carpentry ticket. Then, when he was 22, there were a few firemen involved in lacrosse, and Jack Fulton told him the department was hiring. They made a list of 10 guys and Wayne made the list near the bottom by putting newspapers in his shoes to make himself taller to meet the minimum height.
“I walked in for an interview and though I didn’t realize [the interviewer] was really into weightlifting, the subject came up and I told him I worked out,” says Wayne. “By accident, I hit on his favourite topic, so it worked out well. That’s one of the reasons I got in to the department, I knew my career was set at a young age.”
Wayne grew up playing for Royal City and, eventually, with the Junior Salmonbellies. At the time, each of the Senior lacrosse teams were allowed to sign two of their Junior age players each year. Ken Winzoski, a high scoring forward, was the most coveted player and he insisted that if the Senior Bellies wanted him they had to select Wayne as well.
“They thought I was too small as I was only about 5 feet 8 inches tall and around 150 pounds,” he says. “They were thinking size, but Ken knew who they should pick. When I joined the team, I was a nervous wreck because it was such a thrill to be a Senior Salmonbellie. I grew up idolizing these guys and now I got to be one of them.”
During his playing career, Wayne played on six Mann Cup Championship teams and, to this day, he still holds records for most career points, most career assists, most short-handed goals, most face-offs won, most first goals of a game, among many others.
One humbling moment came, in 1974, when Wayne joined many of his friends and teammates as they formed a team to represent Canada at the World Field Lacrosse Championship. “We made it to the final but lost that game to the USA,” he recalls. “They were college field lacrosse players used to playing that game and they ran circles around us. We really didn’t understand the game. We were playing a box lacrosse style in field lacrosse. I believe that if we had played them indoors it would have been a different story.”
Wayne retired at the top of his sport in 1981 after winning his final Mann Cup and being named Most Valuable Player of the Cup Finals.
And then disaster struck. In March 1982, while making preparations to coach the team he had just retired from, Wayne agreed to help a fellow firefighter build a cabin at a remote lake when he slipped and fell from the roof.
“At the time, I was lieutenant in charge of first aid at the fire department. I had taught the firefighters I was with CPR, and they used it on me to save my life.”
Wayne was brought to Vancouver General Hospital by helicopter and remained in a coma for a month. “I don’t even remember being on the roof,” he says. “I woke up in VGH to see a friend come in to visit me in the hospital. He told me he got a hat trick in a lacrosse game, when he normally didn’t get three goals in a year. They told me the Canucks were going for the Stanley Cup, so I was confused! I was really at sea. I sustained a lower brain stem injury, but no broken bones.”
Wayne’s recovery was long and slow, not to mention painful. He spent months in Vancouver General before moving to the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre for a year as an in-patient and another year as an outpatient. Wayne met the challenge with the same determination he had shown as a player.
“I overheard the doctor tell my wife I would probably not get out of the wheelchair again and that I would never be a fireman again,” he says. “I was determined to prove them wrong. I did, and got out of that wheelchair. I am a slow walker with an obvious disability, but I am walking. I use a cane when I am out in public, but I got rid of my wheelchair.”
Since his recovery, Wayne focuses his energies on things he considers important. He loves spending time with his second wife, Carol, the woman he calls “the best thing that ever happened to me,” and he dotes on his four children and eight grandchildren, including a talented teenager named Emily who also shoots left like her famous grandpa. He also volunteers when he can, enjoys attending lacrosse games and speaks to young players at events, such as the annual White Rock Pee Wee tournament that bears his name.
In July 1983, a special ceremony was held in Queen’s Park to honour Wayne and the other Salmonbellies’ players. Wayne had his number retired that evening along with three other former greats - the first time the team had done so. Only two other numbers have been retired since. When he first joined the team, Wayne says, “Ken and I went in for our jerseys and they had number 12 reserved for him. There were about four other numbers for me to choose from and one was 13. Ken said to me, ‘why don’t you take that number and we will be in it together. I took it to be different as no one wore that number then. There was no superstition; I knew my abilities and what I could do. I was young and fairly cocky.” Seeing his number 13 being raised to the rafters was a very proud moment.
OCTOBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
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