The National Lacrosse League is home to the best box lacrosse players in the world. They are at the top of their game, put on stellar athletic performances and have diehard, competitive attitudes.
With lacrosse action suspended until the pandemic has subsided, NLL players have been missing the game fiercely. Thankfully, they have stayed busy in their day-to-day lives. They’ve spent more time with friends and family, honed different types of skills, and remained grounded during this tumultuous moment in history.
Gloves Off is a 13-installment series that peels back the layers of our athletes to uncover more about their lifestyle and personal lives, learning about their hobbies, passions and more, with the goal of making them inherently more relatable to their fans.
Cam Holding is still a pretty young guy, just 31, so it was definitely unsettling when he contemplated retirement four years ago. The defenseman, playing for the Colorado Mammoth at the time, suffered a devastating ACL tear while trying out for Team Canada.
ACL tears can take up to a year to heal properly.
“At the time I was coaching at Michigan State, and I kind of decided I was done playing lacrosse,” Holding says. “I was going to focus on my coaching career. It was my first serious injury and it was hard to contemplate retirement so early.”
He told Colorado not to bother protecting him in the upcoming expansion draft, because he truly believed he was finished as a player.
But then Patrick Merrill called.
“He explained what Seals’ owner Joe Tsai was building in San Diego, and how passionate he is about lacrosse and all about the San Diego Seals brand. I eat, sleep and breathe lacrosse and that was something I was incredibly excited about, to be part of a franchise launch and build box lacrosse in a market where it’s not well known. All those things enticed me to ‘dive in’ with this organization.”
The Seals took him with their fourth pick in the expansion draft.
Holding flew back and forth to San Diego the first season until the Seals asked to bring him into the front office staff in a business development role. He had recently gotten married to his wife Paige, and built a house with her in her home state of Michigan. Holding says Paige has been very patient with him, and adapted well to the move and now loves San Diego, where she works as a sonographer.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” he says. “It really helped reignite my love for lacrosse.”
Part of Holding’s business role is assisting with innovative ideas to market the team, a process made easy because of Tsai’s enthusiasm for both the city and the sport.
“Joe is all about the cool factor. He’s so good for the sport of lacrosse,” Holding praises.
One of Holding’s main projects was the unfortunately cancelled game on the runway of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. The base was used for quarantining passengers coming in from China at the start of the pandemic.
“We were constantly adjusting to the safety protocols so we could still play the game because we had put so much into it, so it was a real let down having to cancel. It would have been the coolest game ever.”
San Diego has a large military presence and paying tribute to that service is always in the back of Holding’s mind, so he’s hopeful the idea for the game can be resurrected at some point.
In February 2020, the Seals played a game in Las Vegas, the next destination for NLL expansion. Holding’s sure the new Las Vegas team will become fast rivals of the Seals. He and teammate Wes Berg headed to Vegas a week before the game to help coach local youth programs and introduce box lacrosse.
The pair are also coaching together in the San Diego community with the Seals’ junior program.
“Lacrosse is the only thing I can think about,” Holding says, having played the sport since he was three-years-old. “As much as I love coaching the kids, they’re also helping to keep our coaching staff sane because it gives us box lacrosse.”
They’re running four boys travel teams, two girls teams, and a collegiate team, in addition to a development league for kids who are new to the game. They’re hosting what Holding believes is the city’s first-ever box lacrosse tournament this summer.
The talent they coach is incredible, he says. No matter what age group he coaches, he’s impressed by the athleticism.
“It’s top notch, high-end lacrosse. This little pocket of field players have been getting pulled to DI schools the last few years. We want to develop those field players and give them the opportunity to play box lacrosse as well. Hopefully they’ll have an avenue to play PLL and NLL if that’s what they want to do. We have kids right now that could play in the NLL.”
There are lacrosse hotbeds in schools in the area, like Torrey Pines, Cathedral Catholic and The Bishop’s School, and it doesn’t hurt that with the mild climate kids can practice year-round.
“They’re hooked on box lacrosse out here,” he says.
Holding and Berg not only work together, but relax together, exploring everything that San Diego has to offer.
They recently became certified to scuba dive up to 120 feet. They’ve seen shipwrecks, leopard sharks, and large fish species, including black sea bass that can weigh up to 400 lbs. Berg has even seen a broadnose sevengill shark. Nearby Catalina Island has some of the best scuba diving in the US.
“It is so fun; it’s addicting,” he describes. “You’re in the water by six a.m.; you see some really cool stuff, then pop up around eight for brunch and talk about all the cool stuff you saw. It’s a fun way to start your day.
“We also went skydiving recently,” he chuckles. “It was a trip! We made the most of Covid and did a bunch of random outdoor activities.”
He and Paige have done skiing trips, at her request – Holding admits he usually tries to avoid skiing to avoid injuring himself – and hikes up Mammoth Mountain.
“This year I didn’t have an excuse. She does so much sitting and waiting for me with lacrosse that I wanted to do that for her.
“This city is one of the greatest places on earth,” Holding says. “It’s like a big city with a small city vibe. Everyone here is friendly and relaxed; the sun is always out. It’s a calmer, more relaxed L.A. You can ski, scuba dive, hike or you can go to the desert. You can do whatever you want on any given day.”
And what about surfing, one of the most popular activities in California?
“I tried it, I was terrible at it, I stopped.”
Right now some of the Seals, including Holding, Berg, Austin Staats, Tre Leclaire and Skylar Whinery are practicing together twice a week, to try and bring back a sense of normalcy before the next season begins.
“I miss the comradery and the ability to share the love of the game with your teammates,” Holding says. “I’m looking forward to being back in the team atmosphere and getting the sense of normalcy back. Even waking up for an early Friday morning flight, and then being pissed to have to wake up for an early Sunday morning flight home.”
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