I could start this story when I was a young kid growing up in Illinois, playing baseball everyday, and perfecting the fundamentals of the swing (a big help with my lacrosse shooting form). I could also start this story, the summer before Senior year at Cary-Grove High School, when I played summer lacrosse and won my first fastest shot competition. But the beginning I want to start this story with, is the one where I began to chase a record… spoiler alert, a record that I crushed.
Yeah, that’s where I want to start.
Let’s rewind to the 2013 All Star Game, where Mike Sawyer shot 114 mph. 114. That’s some serious heat. The world record was 111 mph at the time. Rabil held it… I think I have a video of it somewhere. A couple days before the All Star Game, I was shooting in the Lax Shop with one of my sticks.
The radar board blinked at me.
Then of course our radar board broke for a couple months so I didn’t really have a way to track it. Honestly, at one point I thought that there was no way to get over 114 mph. My motivation to continue was my mother always telling me, "Look Zack you hit 112 mph, why can’t you do 114?” So I just kept working out, trying to get in better shape and be a better lacrosse player for the Chicago Outlaws. I continued to train hard, not just with shooting but overall, until we finally got a new board at the shop up and running again.
My boss (Justin Smith, owner of the Lax Shop) went to LaxCon to check out some of the new products coming out the next year. While he was gone, I was at home working, when I hopped in the cage and started shooting. A regular routine of mine, in case you haven’t picked up on that yet.
107. 109. 110. 112… 114… 115……… 116…………
I had a buddy video tape it and send it to my boss. (The day of my interview, Justin had me show him some sticks I had strung and jokingly said, “If you can shoot over 90 you got the job!” Well, I hit 107… I think he showed every customer that came in for the next couple months, haha, but back to the story.) Justin showed the video to a couple guys he was with. One of those happened to be Ryan Hurley (Partner at Epoch). Hurley and I started talking about how we could showcase this better and really get it out there.
Then out of no where, (I don’t really believe in “fate”) I saw they were opening up the All Star Game Fastest Shot challenge to the public by first having to compete in the Rabil Challenge.
Challenge accepted, Paul.
That was my shot (literally and figuratively). I showed my parents and they were on board to do whatever they could to get me there. Well, I sent it to Hurley and he was like, “It’s an awesome idea. Let me talk to James (principal of Epoch).” A couple days went by. I was driving with one of my closest friends to men’s league in the city (I was on a team with a couple guys from The Lax Shop) when I got the call from James and Hurley saying they wanted to support me anyway they could and get me out to the All Star Game. It was going to be in Boston that year. I got home later that evening and told my parents, they were ecstatic.
Since Epoch helped me get to Boston, it allowed for my sister and father to come along for support… and I can’t really say how much it meant to me for them to be there. My older sister, Arianna, really helped make it possible too. She paid for herself and my dad, and although I have thanked her so many times, now it’s on paper. Official.
So leaving home I was nervous, excited and very ready to prove myself. We landed the day before the All Star Game giving us time to travel around Boston, checking it out, really taking in the city as much as we could in a short amount of time. I saw Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail, Boston Common, etc. (Side note: I enjoyed US History in school, so seeing a lot of the landmarks was very interesting to me). My family and I sat down and had dinner at an Irish Pub, close to the water with awesome food.
June 26, 2014: The day of The Shot
Woke up, had breakfast in the hotel then headed out to see the city a little more and try and find a net to loosen up a little bit/see how the stick was throwing on the day. We drove around for a while until we saw this small park, kind of near our hotel, that had some lacrosse nets at it.
I got out of the car to check them out and of course they were locked up. So like all great plans if you can’t use option A, use option B… aka, the backside of the net. I was feeling good. The ball was coming out fast and my body felt nice and loose. We went and grabbed some tape to re-tape the stick before we went to the game.
Gotta have that end knob fresh if you want the power.
Will Drusch (Filmmaker at Epoch) was shooting some footage and did a little interview for the video, The Shot, just basically small background information. After that we headed towards Harvard Stadium, grabbed a bite to eat (where else other than Chipotle), and then off to the Fan Fest… just absolutely a beautiful summer day, until the sun went down and it got very cold. I walked around the Fan Fest taking it all in and getting focused to shoot at the Rabil Challenge. This was my first All Star Game and only my second MLL game. (Dear MLL, bring back a team to Chicago. Lacrosse wasn’t big enough yet……. I'd say we are ready.)
So when I stepped up to the plate at the Rabil Challenge and shot the first time, I clocked at only 104 mph, but it actually ended up being the shot to qualify me to get on the field and compete with the pros later during halftime of the game. My other two shots were like high 90’s. The ground was muddy and slick by the tent and I almost slipped and fell over. A MLL personnel came up to me letting me know that I had won the Rabil Challenge and would be heading on the field at halftime.
I was terribly nervous.
… but was that much closer to what we came to Boston for.
The game started, but couldn't tell you what really happened in that first half of the game. I was too nervous counting down the minutes and seconds until I had to walk down and be on the field. I was watching each second tick away... another second closer to half time... another second closer to being out in the center of that field showing everyone what I have.
What Illinois has.
What someone starting lacrosse so late has.
I tied up my cleats and walked down towards the field to get ready. I was standing towards the end zone area behind the goal. The nerves hit me again, so I started talking to the cop that was standing on the field.
They brought me to about the 50 yard line by the benches as they set up the competition. The winner of the Rabil Challenge was supposed to go first and then all the pros were going to go after. Well, we may have told someone that I could potentially break a record. So the MLL decided to let me go last. Talk about pressure.
The Fastest Shot Competition started. Sieverts goes 110 mph. Schmidt goes 107 mph. Turri goes 103 mph. Manley goes 112 mph. At this point in my head I told myself that 112 mph is beatable. I was more nervous about getting it in the net than actually going fast. I remember standing next to Manley and him looking over and saying to me, “So you’re the kid who won the competition?”
I figured if it hits the net, I got this. Before my first shot, I was just standing there, waiting for the TV camera guy to tell me when I could shoot. It felt like eternity. I was just trying to clear my mind and focus on one thing and one thing only… the ball coming out of my stick as fast as I could possibly make it go.
The camera guy gave me the go ahead. Here we go. Just hit the damn net.
I tied the world record with my first shot. HUGE relief.
Now all I had to do was really just let everything out. I tossed the ball up…… then dropped it. * Some expletives came out of my mouth at this moment.* The stick just grabbed the ball a little too hard. I still laugh at how terrible that looked. It made me slightly worried that I wouldn’t hit the net and it would be off cage. I remember hearing my father yelling, “Let’s go Zack, do it!” (Something about my father; ever since I’ve been young, at any event, you can hear my father cheering and rooting for me very loudly. Even at graduation, when you’re not supposed to cheer, my dad stood up and the whole gym could hear him.) So when I heard him yelling, I knew I had it.
Running towards the goal, I put my hands out and fired. I heard the guy using the gun behind the cage, “116!”
I just turned around and ran straight for my dad and sister. The moment I will truly remember, besides the shot itself, was that hug… knowing how proud they both were that I just accomplished the goal I set out for myself.
Challenge accomplished Paul.
After the shot, I made my way back up to my seat where I was swarmed by kids wanting my autograph. One kid didn’t have anything to sign, so out of nowhere says “Sign my forehead!” (You’ve got guts buddy and I hope you wore that proudly. It meant a lot to me.) It was one of the coolest things seeing how excited the kids were to meet me. It was also surreal because deep down I am the same as those kids in the stands… just in love with the game of lacrosse and hyped about anything big to happen in the sport (aren’t we all).
After signing autographs, we got invited to the VIP tent at the end of the field. (I kept that VIP bracelet on for like a week or two after.) I met Joe from Throne Lacrosse. Really glad we met, awesome dude! Kind of just took in the rest of the game from down in the end zone. Once the game finished, we went down and took some pictures and reminisced about what had just happened. We took in the whole night.
I couldn’t wait to get some food. We had gotten to the stadium around 3:00 pm and didn’t leave until 10ish. We grabbed some ‘za and headed to the hotel. I thought on the way home, What if this makes it on SportsCenter? I finally got back to my hotel room and was able to charge my phone and relax a little. I had been disconnected since the beginning of the game.
I had over a hundred texts and 30 or so missed calls. One of the first texts I saw was from a friend.
“Dude you're on SportsCenter!”
I turned on the TV, flipped to ESPN and waited for the day’s Top 10 plays.
There I was. #8
(It’s actually the number I wear with the Chicago Outlaws). To be on SportsCenter, a show I’ve watched since I was little, was crazy. I almost didn’t believe it.
I will always remember that night… all the moments leading up to it, all the people a part of it, and even those who weren’t there in person but knew were cheering and rooting me on. (My mom, back home, was at a restaurant with my younger sister and a lot of extended family members watching it on TV. Sorry to the patrons who were trying to dine there that night. I heard it got a little loud). So many people have asked me what it was like. I’ve never been able to explain it, but I think it’s just a moment that I won’t have words for besides amazing. It’s really the only word that can encompass all the feelings.
All I hope, is that I can help spread this game that I love so dearly to every corner of this country, even the world. No matter where you’re from, how long you’ve played, or your size, this game is great and will give back to you what you put into it.
If you work hard, I promise you, you’ll make it where you want to go.
Now excuse me, while I take some shots in the shop.
There’s a world record to break……..
This has been an original TILT Narrative by
Head of Content & CEO: Jake Hubert || Contributor: Zack Dorn