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"> The Vault: Eric Martin, Team USA's 'Rare Bird' (May 2010) | USA Lacrosse Magazine

The Vault: Eric Martin, Team USA's 'Rare Bird' (May 2010)

US Lacrosse Magazine, formerly Lacrosse Magazine, is the longest-running and most widely read lacrosse publication in the world. The magazine dates back to 1978.

“The Vault” is a new series in which we will revisit past cover subjects to see where they are now and what that moment in time meant to them.

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ome birds aren’t meant to be caged.

Ten years ago this month, we featured Team USA’s “Rare Bird” Eric Martin on our cover. The headline, the translation of the Rara Avis tattoo inked in Latin on the inside of Martin’s left bicep, perfectly captured an elite athlete who never quite fit anyone’s mold.

The Norfolk, Va., native was living in San Francisco at the time. So we hired Zach Heffner, founder of Verdict Digital and a former Virginia lacrosse player, to produce visuals of Martin that were undeniably San Fran. The photo shoot started at the Golden Gate Bridge (of course) and concluded with some edgy portraits, including one set in which Martin set fire to his stick. In between, the two friends hit up one of Martin’s favorite surf spots and did some more PG collaborations, us being a family magazine and all.

These days, you’re more likely to find Martin, 38, in an actual kayak than throwing kayak checks.

Martin, or “E-Mart,” was in his prime. At age 28, he was in the middle of a decade-long run in the sport that few would have foreseen for a Division III walk-on. He didn’t play as a freshman at Salisbury, emerged as an all-conference performer as a sophomore and then, as so many raw talents do under legendary Sea Gulls coach Jim Berkman, he blossomed into a two-time national defenseman of the year while leading Salisbury to NCAA championships in 2003 and 2004.

In the article, Martin credited his roommate, Casey Olejniczak, also his tattoo artist, for helping to unleash his wild side. Their workouts were so intense, writer Joel Censer learned, “Martin once popped blood vessels in his nose.” (If Censer’s name rings a bell, he’s now the chief program officer of Harlem Lacrosse, another rare bird whose feathers were just too bright for the confines of his profession at the time.)

Martin played with a mean streak, introducing himself to Major League Lacrosse by splitting open Casey Powell’s chin with a kayak check and nearly coming to blows with Ryan Powell during a Rochester Rattlers training camp. It made him a natural fit for the National Lacrosse League, which used to be much more permissive of fighting than it is today.

When Mike Pressler took over the U.S. team in September 2008, he put a premium on box lacrosse experience. Martin and Paul Rabil, who would go on to earn world championship MVP honors in his first go-around with Team USA, won an NLL title together with the Washington Stealth just two months before the 2010 games in Manchester, England. They were among nearly a dozen Americans on the 23-man roster who had experienced success in the Canadian-dominated league. Attackmen Brendan Mundorf, Ryan Boyle, Ryan Powell and Drew Westervelt all starred in the NLL. Midfielders Matt Zash, Stephen Peyser and especially Chris Schiller knew how to defend the pick-and-roll. Defensemen Kyle Sweeney and Shawn Nadelen were fixtures with the erstwhile Philadelphia Wings.

The U.S., which four years earlier lost to Canada to end a 28-year unbeaten streak and then fell again to the Canadians in the round robin, defeated Canada 12-10 in the gold medal game. Many U.S. veterans were at or near the end of their careers, most notably Hall of Fame goalie Brian Dougherty.

Martin did not necessarily see it that way for himself. “I felt like I was peaking,” he said.

But as Martin recently learned while backcountry skiing Mount Tallac near Lake Tahoe, a slight shift in course can trigger an avalanche and lead to a short stay at the summit. After suffering a serious shoulder injury while playing for MLL’s Denver Outlaws in 2011, he was never the same.

“Mitch Belisle killed me,” Martin said, remembering the sequence in which he sprinted upfield to receive a clearing pass over his left shoulder from goalie Jesse Schwartzman, only to get drilled by the Boston Cannons defenseman sizing him up at midfield. “He was a heavy hitter, a pretty physical dude. I wouldn’t call it a cheap shot. I would’ve done the same thing. But it was a bang-bang play and my collarbone shattered into seven pieces.”

Martin underwent surgery in San Francisco and recovered in time for the 2012 NLL season, suiting up in 12 games. But the Stealth released him that December, as did the Colorado Mammoth after six games the next year. The Outlaws also moved on from Martin. He last played in MLL in 2014, appearing in six games for the Cannons before injuring his hamstring.

Being a full-time professional lacrosse player had taken its toll on Martin. The constant cross-country travel, the independent offseason training, the strain it put on family and friendships—it all came to a head when Martin decided to move to Lake Tahoe following a failed engagement and the dissolution of the club team he co-directed with former San Francisco Dragons teammate Chris Rotelli.

Martin moved to Incline Village, Nev., in September 2012. Another lacrosse friend, former Princeton All-American Taylor Simmers, was starting the Tahoe Expedition Academy, a K-12 private school that provides experiential learning through outdoor activities. Martin is in his eighth year as the athletics and activities director at the school, where the extra-curricular offerings range from blacksmithing to biathlon.


Martin’s metamorphosis from lax rat to adventurer started on a 20-mile mountain bike excursion. His wheels were better suited for jumping the curbs of San Francisco than traversing the trails of the Sierra Nevada, but he saw the group of men who were mostly in their 40s and figured, “I’m going to crush these guys.”

How foolish.

“On a huge uphill, this guy’s talking about a kitchen remodel and I can’t even breathe,” Martin recalled. “I’m bonked, completely drained, as tired as I’ve ever been. My bike gears aren’t working right. Twelve miles in, I threw my bike off the trail [in frustration]. Then I compose myself, make my summit and then that drop down — it was one of the best mountain-life sports experiences I’ve had out here. It was eye-opening, humbling.”

Martin discovered that lacrosse and mountain life required two different forms of physical fitness. He often opted for the latter, expediting his path toward retirement. “Go hit a wall and do agility or go mountain biking?” he said. “Let me get this awesome experience.”

These days, you’re more likely to find Martin, 38, in an actual kayak than throwing kayak checks, but he still plays for Wimmer Solutions in the Hawaii Lacrosse Invitational every October and coaches a youth box team in the High Sierra Lacrosse League.

When offered the opportunity to try out for the 2014 U.S. team, Martin declined. He had already reached that summit.

“It was amazing to be on that [2010]  team,” Martin said. “Pressler put so much pressure on it. He had this way, but it made us all care. He said, ‘It’s cool to care.’”