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Stories/Op-Ed

The Long Road Back For Riptide Forward Dan Lomas

Dan Lomas can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This past July 27th, the New York Riptide forward was playing for the Cobourg Kodiaks against the Brooklin Redmen during a summer box lacrosse league game in Oakville, Ontario.  The Kodiaks were on the power play during the second quarter when a Redmen defenseman picked up a loose ball in front of their own net following a shot on goal. Lomas began to backpedal when he saw the defenseman start to run towards him.

Then, the defender dropped the ball right in front of the net.

“My eyes lit up and I saw a scoring opportunity,” said the 29-year-old Lomas. “With my right leg fully extended behind me, I tried to push off of it and completely change direction.”

Lomas felt a sharp pain in his right foot and had two thoughts as to what had happened.

“My first reaction with the noise and kind of what I felt…I assumed somebody threw a second ball on the floor and hit me in the back of the leg,” said Lomas.  “The second thought was that somebody had slashed me.”

After Lomas pulled up a little bit on the shot, he turned around and didn’t see anybody standing near him.  Having been around other players who had gone through the same type of feeling and pain, Lomas knew exactly what had happened.

He had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon.

“I think I knew right away how serious it was,” said the Burlington, Ontario native. “It wasn’t just a calf pull or something.  It set in pretty quick.”

Lomas is nearing his return to the Riptide lineup and it was his belief and determination that paved the way for a remarkable recovery just about 7 months after surgery.

After a lengthy COVID-19 hiatus cut short the 2019-20 season and wiped out the entire 2020-21 campaign, the National Lacrosse League was getting ready for a return to play for the 2021-22 season and Lomas was excited about getting back to business. He had been working hard throughout the entire pause to the point where he was feeling great and was in outstanding shape.

And then, in just a split second during that summer league game, it all came crashing down when he suffered the ruptured Achilles tendon.

“Holy s***,” thought Lomas.  “I’ve got so much work to do just to get to where I was even in the last year let alone to the kind of fitness level that I thought I had taken myself to since then. I think it was overwhelming. It was frustrating. It was emotional. It was one of those things that only lasted for about a minute and a half and I was like okay what do we do now?”

Lomas wasn’t sure at that moment what type of rehab he was looking at so he began to Google the expected timeline for recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon. He learned that it takes six months after surgery to return to recreational sports, but he needed to know what it was going to take to return the Riptide at some point during the 2021-22 season.

The veteran forward then spoke to former teammate Cody Jamieson who had returned to action seven months after surgery for the same injury so he started to think about some dates in his head and he saw March 5th on the calendar.

That was just the inspiration he needed…or so he thought.

“I circled that date and I printed it off and posted a picture of it above my desk just to keep it there all of the time,” said Lomas.

But when Lomas went to see his doctor, a different timeline was presented to him…he was told to expect a recovery time of a year.

“That was pretty alarming,” recalled Lomas.

When the doctor left the room, Lomas became emotional and broke down in tears. He knew what the landscape was, not just in the National Lacrosse League, but in all of professional sports. If you miss an entire year of action and an entire season, the chances of returning are reduced greatly.

Lomas decided that he was going to go with his own deadline and not the one that the doctor wanted to prescribe.

“Standard timelines are for standard people that put in standard work and I just didn’t see myself doing that,” said Lomas.  “I wanted to do more to try and get back quicker.”

And it looks like Lomas was right to stick to his target date.

Lomas underwent surgery to repair the ruptured Achilles tendon on August 9th and if all goes according to plan, he will make his season debut a week from Saturday, March 5th, when the Riptide visit the Toronto Rock in Hamilton, Ontario.

He is expected to return to game action on the exact date that he circled on his calendar.

“We’re getting a lot closer,” said Lomas who recently went through a good full-contact practice.

Lomas is getting ready to go through a simulated game weekend in preparation for his return. He will arrive on Long Island for practice this Friday night and then he’ll participate in the Saturday morning shootaround.  From there, Lomas will take part in both warmups before the Riptide’s home game Saturday night against Toronto at Nassau Coliseum.

And then, he’ll see how he feels.

“Hopefully, fingers crossed, everything goes well…if I feel comfortable enough that I can go out and play the way I think I’m capable of playing then the idea is to play next week in Hamilton,” said Lomas.

Getting to this point has not been an easy road for Lomas, but he’s been able to climb the mountain with a tremendous amount of support from the entire Riptide organization including owner Erik Baker, Team Physician James Paci, Executive Vice President Rich List, General Manger Jim Veltman, Head Coach Dan Ladouceur and the players.

“They were great,” said Lomas who had 21 goals and 20 assists during his first season with the Riptide in 2019-20. “I got calls from everyone on the team. They said they wanted to help in any way they can. The organization was there in terms of support.”

Whenever he would receive a call from the Riptide to check up on him, Lomas had a simple message and that was for everyone on the team to focus on the group that they had and when he was healthy, they could determine if there was a place for him on the roster.

And then…Lomas reached a milestone in his recovery.

On January 28th, Lomas returned to practice with the Riptide.

“It was emotional in a sense because you get your friends back,” said Lomas. “You feel kind of exiled like you’re not a part of the highs and the lows that they go through. Just to be out there…it was great. I think there was a little too many dropped passes on my end the first practice but it was so much fun.”

The next day, the Riptide opened up the Evaluation Period for Lomas to return from the Physically Unable To Perform List and he is now on the practice squad.

During his absence, Lomas has watched the Riptide get off to a 1-7 start to the season. What’s been particularly frustrating is that the Riptide has been in every game but they haven’t been able to get winning results. They’re 0-4 at home including three losses in overtime and they’ve had some solid road efforts but lost a couple of them but two goals and another by three.

Lomas is hoping that he can help the team get things turned around when he returns.

“I know how hard everyone is working and how bad they do want it,” said Lomas. “Hopefully I can get back here and help to do whatever it takes to try and finish these games out.”

Recovering from a major injury is not an easy thing to do, especially for an athlete. Lomas has been very diligent in his rehab and his hard work is about to pay off with his expected return.  It’s been a long journey for him, but he’s been able to stay connected to the sport that he loves from watching the Riptide, mainly on television, but also continuing to produce episodes of “Back of the Bird”, a lacrosse podcast that he co-hosts with Rochester Knighthawks defenseman Paul Dawson.

Lomas and Dawson had been planning on getting the podcast off the ground when their playing days were over, but the launch was moved up when the NLL decided not to have a 2020-21 season.

“We kind of took it as a let’s do this as a way to kind of maybe get some interest back and make sure people don’t forget about us or think we’ve forgotten about fans,” said Lomas. “It’s been really good to kind of take my off of (the injury) and be part of a routine every day.  Adding that once a week in there has been really fun and there’s so many good stories to hear from these guys that play and have played in our league.”

During his time away from the Riptide, Lomas educated himself about what athletes go through when they suffer a significant injury. His advice for other athletes who are going through what he has gone through comes from reading the words of author and media strategist Ryan Holiday. He learned that athletes can experience depression and a feeling of loneliness that they don’t have the same abilities they had before getting hurt.

Lomas also learned that there can be a positive outcome with athletes showing a higher likelihood of giving back to other people, more happiness and having more strength overall as a human being in terms of dealing with adversity.

“If you can, for lack of a better term, water the grass around you to get through something like this, at the end of the day it’s just going to be stronger and you’re going to be better for it when everything is done and you can move forward.”

When Dan Lomas finally steps back onto the field in a game for the Riptide, it will be the culmination of a long road back for one the five-year NLL veteran. As emotional as it will be for him, Lomas’ return could be the inspiration that the Riptide needs to get things turned around.

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