By Stephen Stamp | NLL.com Staff Writer
Even with 15,000+ roaring fans packing the SaskTel Centre every time the Saskatchewan Rush play a home game, the team has no more ardent fan than a resident of Sherwood Park, Alberta who goes by the name of Grandma Rush.
How much does Grandma Rush love her team? Well, when her grand-nephew Nolan Heavenor was playing for the Calgary Roughnecks when the Rush were formed a decade ago, folks used to assume she’d be cheering for his club because, after all, blood is thicker than water, right? “Uh-uh,” Grandma Rush asserts, “the Rush is thicker than anything.”
She’s not even remotely upset at the team for leaving Edmonton two years ago. “It was very, very sad,” Grandma admits, “but I’m so glad that they did because they didn’t get the support that they needed and Saskatoon has gone overboard—and Saskatchewan as a whole. They have treated them so good. There is a massive difference and they deserve what they got.”
With her famous “Grandma Says Rush Kick Ass” sign and her engaging personality, fans in Saskatoon have taken to Grandma Rush just as warmly as the fans in Edmonton did, even if she doesn’t get around the arena as much as she used to.
“I know in Edmonton, I would go with my sign and get people cheering, egg them on. I would go from the very bottom to the very top, every stairs, because I figured the people at the top and the special needs ones were so glad to see me, I figured their money’s just as good as the ones down below. I would do 10-12 thousand steps a night.”
She can’t do that any more because of some health issues that haven’t allowed her to get to every game in Saskatoon, but she still gets to as many games as she can and the team’s new fans appreciate her devotion just as much the fans in Alberta did.
“I’m totally amazed at the reception because after 10 years in Edmonton, I was not surprised that people knew who Grandma Rush was, but when I went to Saskatoon, I was absolutely amazed at the reception, the recognition and the acceptance I got there,” she says. “They did wonderful things. They had a special Grandma Rush night. When I was in Edmonton, they had a Grandma Rush bobblehead night. Just for example, now there’s people going around saying I wish they’d make a Grandma Rush bobblehead for Saskatchewan. They’re overwhelmingly welcoming people.”
The team even had a Grandma Rush night in Saskatoon and it was a massive hit.
“As I came on the floor, it absolutely blew me away. I’ve never been so humbled in my life. 15,000 people are there that stood up and chanted ‘Grandma Rush, Grandma Rush.’ I even get choked up now when I think of it. There’s just something about the Rush and the fans and the team and the owners, they’re just one big family.”
Grandma Rush is so charming that it’s hardly surprising the Saskatchewan fans have embraced her as though she is family, too. They often wonder which member of the team is part of her actual family, which player is her grandson.
Her answer? “I say, none of them and all of them. I adopted all of them. After every game I go down and walk behind and just give them a tap on the shoulder and either congratulate them or say better luck next time and give them a hug. I’ve kept in touch with them, even the ones that leave I keep in touch with.”
The other question that always comes up is how old Grandma Rush is. “I’ll tell you the same I tell everyone else: age is just a number. Some days I’m 10, some days I’m a hundred and I was born on June the tenth, 1931. You figure it out. I believe this year I’m going to be 86.”
Okay, there is one other question that just demands to be asked. What is your real name and how many of the players actually know it.
“Not too many,” she says with a laugh. “As a matter of fact I had a teenager come up and say to me, do you have a real name? Like are you a real person. Most everybody calls me Grandma or Grandma Rush. Since I’ve been on Facebook, yes, because they see my other name, Joyce Souka. You notice that I say ‘my other name’.”
Grandma Rush refers to her “other name” because she thinks of herself by her adopted moniker.
“I sure do,” she emphasizes. But she’s clearly not the only one, and it’s not just at lacrosse games that she gets recognized, either.
“As a matter of fact it’s amazing. I went to a soccer tournament in Calgary this weekend with my family and I was walking down the aisles and there’s people yelling, there’s Grandma Rush, there’s Grandma Rush, which amazes me cause I don’t have my sign, I don’t have my shirt on. I guess I’ve got a face you can’t forget or something.”
She certainly hasn’t been forgotten as she faces the health issues that have limited her attendance. “The team and the whole NLL has been behind me 100%, unbelievable, sending videos and cards,” Grandma Rush says. And it’s not just Saskatchewan players. Ryan Benesch sent her a stick with his best wishes for her recovery.
That’s just the kind of admiration and adoration that Grandma Rush engenders. So if you are lucky enough to get to a game in Saskatoon and Grandma Rush is there, make sure you look her up. And don’t be surprised if you quickly find yourself feeling like she’s family. That’s just the effect she has on folks. And she sees the whole NLL as one big family, too. But she will make it clear, for Grandma, the Rush are #1.