YOUNG BOYS often have similar dreams about their futures. Many want to be a professional athlete, firefighter, astronaut or soldier. Many of these dreams die when they reach school age, and different career paths are forged for them. For Garrett Thul, more than one of his childhood dreams are coming true.
Thul was in second grade when he started playing lacrosse. Now, about 14 years later, he is playing at the highest level, for the Wings in the National Lacrosse League. At the same time, he is an active member in the U.S. Army after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2013.
Thul got an early start in both the lacrosse world and the military world. Like many young boys, Thul was involved in a variety of sports at an early age. Despite playing both baseball and soccer, lacrosse seemed like his calling for one specific reason.
"I didn't like [the fact in] baseball or soccer that you couldn't hit anybody," Thul said. "If you have a problem with someone, you couldn't go over there and rough him up a little bit. I played 1 year of lacrosse and baseball, so I had a year to compare the two. I fell in love with lacrosse, because it is a lot faster."
Thul's grandfather was in the Army, as well, and served in World War II. His talk about the Army sparked an interest in a young Thul that carried over as the years went on. When he started playing lacrosse, he would watch his friend Mike Kamon, who also played for Army. The love affair with West Point began then.
"From a very early age, I was an Army lacrosse fan," Thul said. "Being from New Jersey, West Point is only an hour and a half from my house, so I would go up all the time and see my buddy play. I fell in love with the academy, fell in love with Army lacrosse."
Thul played at Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington, N.J. Even before he moved on to West Point, he knew where he wanted to be.
"When high school came around, I started looking at schools, and Army was one of the first teams that contacted me, so that was it for me," Thul said. "They wanted me bad enough, and I was smart enough and got in."
While at West Point, Thul said he was helped by the credo the military academy operates by: "Every cadet is an athlete," so all classes were done by midafternoon, allowing every cadet to participate in some kind of sports activity. He never had to miss a class for a practice, or a practice for a class, which was to his advantage.
"A lot of my friends played college lacrosse, too, and hearing their stories, I almost had an easier time with it than my friends just because of the way West Point is set up," Thul said.
When Thul was drafted 21st overall in the 2013 NLL draft, he had some contemplating to do. He had a duty to fulfill to his country after graduating from West Point. After making the U.S. national team's 30-man roster, he was granted an extension to stay at West Point and work as an athletics intern, as well as train for the spot on Team USA.
Thul works as the secretary for Army's lacrosse team and trains with the team while he is at West Point. He answers the phones, writes scouting reports, and coaches the prep school lacrosse team. Once the FIL World Lacrosse Championships in Denver are over in July, Thul is attending an infantry basic officer leader course in Fort Benning, Ga. He will then head to a unit, which he hopes is the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Despite having a plan to work his way up the ranks in the Army, he also is working up the ranks in the NLL. He scored 24 points, including 16 goals, in only 12 games for the Wings, who have two games left in the season. While he is playing well, he knows his time with lacrosse is limited. In his mind, it is country over everything else.
"When I got drafted [by the Wings], I was ecstatic," Thul said. "One of my dreams was always to play professional lacrosse, to play at the highest level of the sport. I was super excited. But, on the other hand, my other dream is to be an infantry officer. They conflict a little bit."
He added: "Lacrosse is fun; I love playing lacrosse. The thing is, I can't keep doing it if it impacts how well I do my job. Ultimately, especially in the infantry branch, not being good at my job could potentially lead to casualties or fatalities, and that is not acceptable to me. If there is a point where I can't do my job, then I am going to stop playing lacrosse."
Until that time comes, he will continue to lead, both on and off the field.