International Men

July 17, 2010

Sanderson Shows Survival Instincts on Field, Too

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Team Canada 10, Team USA 9

Muscle movement on Chris Sanderson's right side has been weakened by the Dec. 2008 removal of a malignant brain tumor on his left frontal lobe -- affecting his speech and forcing him to adjust how he plays the goalie position.

© John Strohsacker/

MANCHESTER, England -- Chris Sanderson should be dead.

But there he was Saturday, standing askew in the Canadian cage as he corralled 100 mile-an-hour shots like Team USA was just blowing bubbles at him. He shaded his right not as a ploy to bait those shooters, but rather to compensate for damage done to his brain in December 2008, when he had a malignant tumor removed from his frontal lobe.

It was then that doctors told Sanderson he had nine to 12 months to live.

Two years later, the former Virginia goalkeeper and Pennington, N.J., resident is playing in his fourth career world lacrosse championships--– and giving Team USA fits again.

Sanderson stonewalled the U.S. on Saturday with 11 saves, blanking Team USA in the second quarter of a 10-9 victory in the preliminary round of the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships at the University of Manchester.

“It’s a testament to the human spirit. Even for him to be here is just incredible,” said Team Canada attackman John Grant Jr., who scored two of his three goals in the fourth quarter to front Sanderson’s effort. “The guy’s been playing amazing, some of the best lacrosse I’ve ever seen him play. He’s an inspiration to me and everyone else here.”

Said Sanderson: “Getting back here was one of the goals I had set. I spoke at opening ceremonies. I got up there and was like, ‘That’s not enough.’ I’m here to do this again.”

“Do this,” as in win a world title. Canada has now won two straight against the U.S. after ending a 28-year drought with a victory in the 2006 gold medal game. Saturday marked Team USA’s first-ever loss in an international preliminary. The SAU.S. dropped to 14-3 all-time against Canada.

Since undergoing brain surgery and radiation, Sanderson has endured a battery of established and experimental cancer treatments. “Every month, I feel terrible for 10 days” from chemotherapy, he said. His gums bleed because of a drug he takes intravenously. “But I’ve got a great family and this [Team Canada] family right here makes it all worth it. It’s nothing.”

Sanderson’s Wikipedia profile says he’s retired. Since leading Canada to that 2006 title, his only time on the lacrosse field had been as a moonlighting attackman in an over-35 league in Philadelphia. He’s 33.

The prospect of returning for Canada’s gold medal defense became real in May, when MRIs and PET scans came back showing no advancement of his cancer. Since Sanderson takes blood thinners (high blood pressure is the side effects of one of his cancer medicines), cardio went out the window. He hit the gym and focused on getting back in the cage, where he soon learned his limitations.

“The cancer was in my frontal lobe on my left side. It controls the right side of my body. So my speech is a little bit off, and my right hand and foot are a little bit weak,” he said. “Physically, that’s one of the biggest challenges getting back in the goal. I had to adapt my style to play to the off side.”

Sanderson’s brother Ryan, like Chris a former NLL pro, had moved to Pennington, N.J., soon after his diagnosis (Sanderson couldn’t drive for eight months). So there was a readymade shooting partner around the corner.

“I was more prepared for this than I was at any of the other world championships,” Sanderson said. “Coming in I was seeing the ball well. I thought my positioning was good. I changed my style a little bit, and it seems to be working. We got it done.”

Sanderson frustrated Team USA’s sharpest shooters. Brendan Mundorf was held to one goal and Max Seibald to one assist less than 24 hours after they scorched Australia for a combined 11 points.

“He’s got a great story,” said U.S. team co-captain Kevin Cassese. “Off the field, he’s a great guy. You certainly feel for him. But once you step on the field, he’s the opposition. He’s a competitor and he played great tonight. He stepped up in a big-time moment. You give him all the credit in the world.”

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