SASKATOON – With six wins in their first nine games and a fan base growing larger by the week, the Saskatchewan Rush are the hottest ticket in town. But when the roaring crowd fades away, one quickly discovers that the players are anything but typical professional athletes.
While sports are a full-time gig for most pros, that’s not the reality in the National Lacrosse League (NLL), where the average annual salary is less than $20,000 and many players hold down second jobs to pay the bills.
“You’ve got to be motivated and you’ve got to have the drive,” said Rush defender Nik Bilic, who works as an electrician when he’s not playing lacrosse.
“After work, hit the gym every day, eat good and study up, so it’s definitely tough to balance everything but where I am now, I’m having a lot of fun with it.”
The Burnaby, B.C. product has embraced the challenge, even moving to Saskatoon for the season while his teammates fly into the city for home games.
“It just made sense. I’m not a big flying guy so moving here, skipping a flight every week was pretty big for me, and just the lifestyle of living here and enjoying the Saskatoon life is pretty fun,” he said.
Living in the Bridge City also gives Bilic extra time to prepare for the next Rush game. Three nights a week, after a full day of wiring houses, he has more work to do – this time with a personal trainer. Because of his unique situation the workouts have a bit of a twist.
“When we have our hockey players here in the off-season, basically their whole job is just to train. They don’t have to do anything else during the day,” said Josh Saulnier, co-owner of JB Performance and one of Bilic’s trainers.
If two jobs and a full workout schedule weren’t enough, as the only locally-based Rush player Bilic is also the team’s go-to guy for community events and media appearances.
Put simply, it’s a busy life, and it’s not for everybody. While Bilic is happy to live it, he hopes one day NLL salaries will reach a point where players can make the lacrosse their only job.
“That would be ideal. Maybe one day it will be like that but for now you’ve got to try and balance both out and hope for the best.”
Meanwhile, it’s back to work.