Make ’em work, Evan Kirk.
It’s a chant you’ll hear numerous times during a Saskatchewan Rush game at SaskTel Centre.
The catchphrase could also serve as a motto for the goaltender’s past.
After raising three boys, Janie Kirk was overjoyed when doctors told her that her fourth pregnancy was a girl due to the rapid heart rate of her child, a common method of determining sex before birth in the ’80s.
Anything over 160 was most likely a girl, but her baby’s heart rate was 188.
Rather than the girl she desperately wanted, Janie gave birth to a boy. Something was amiss.
Around three months later, doctors discovered that baby Evan had VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect), a small hole between two of the chambers in his heart.
“It was caught at an early age, but my doctors said it would grow in at an early age and it never did,” Kirk said.
The early years were cautious for the Kirk family. Janie had had to give Evan medication every four hours and made regular visits to SickKids Hospital in Toronto.
Doctors decided to operate on Evan to repair the hole when he was nine-years-old.
“I remember being in the surgery room, saying bye to my parents and just waking up,” he said. “I don’t remember a whole lot, I remember getting the mask, being out and then waking up in some pain.”
Instead of a prolonged stay and endless recovery period, Kirk was out of the hospital in four days. He was ordered to not run around and take it easy for a few months.
The experience had a profound effect on his lacrosse life.
“I actually got cut from my team that year and I thought I was playing great,” he said of playing after his surgery. “That’s the first time I got cut from a team and I was pretty devastated.”
“I think that’s kind of what drove me to really want to play and make the team the following year.”
Kirk wasn’t completely out of the woods until he was 17. That’s when doctor’s finally gave him the go-ahead after closely monitoring a weak valve in his heart.
No slowing down
Throughout all of this, Kirk was able to become one of the most exciting goalie prospects in recent NLL memory.
After a standout career at Hobart College, Kirk was selected sixth overall by the Minnesota Swarm in the 2011 entry draft.
Part of that resolve to overcome his heart problems and succeed no matter what was strengthened by his parents.
Preparing for his wedding in August, Kirk is having trouble to find ways to thank his parents on his big day. There’s just too much to tell.
“I get emotional right now just thinking about what they’ve done and it’s tough. They’ve always been there, obviously ups and downs,” Kirk said.
One memory that sticks out to Kirk is his mom’s willingness to be his number one fan each and every day.
“My mom would drive nine hours to my school in Connecticut. I’d get in the car, have a water and a bathroom break and drive the car home. 18 hours and she didn’t say a word. There’s nothing she didn’t do,” he said,
As the 30-year-old enters the home stretch of another stellar season, he said he’s happy with his choice to play in net after the extra workload put on his heart.
“In my older age, I do get tired a lot easier than most,” he said of his stamina. “I can tell you, I’m glad I became a goalie.”
“The guys running back and forth all night — I could not do that, that’s for sure.”
With Saskatchewan hosting superhero night to the Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday, there was considerable efforts put into the lives of Saskatchewan children throughout the week. Members of the Rush visited children in the acute care pediatrics unit on Friday and special edition game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off after the game with proceeds going to the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Going through the journey of becoming the 2016 NLL goaltender of the year, Kirk has a unique outlook for superhero night. Remembering his time as a patient in his youth and now being able to give back to children that cheer him on each week.
He will never forget the gifts he received from his lacrosse heroes in Orangeville, Ont. as a boy.
“I remember getting signed balls from them and it literally made my life. I looked at that ball for days,” he said.
“I still have it on my shelf to this day, to be honest. I don’t think we realize how important it is to these kids.”
More than two decades later, it’s Kirk playing the role of superhero for children across Saskatchewan.