When young Costa Rican Walter Rojas left his homeland on a foreign exchange trip to Thomas Edison High School for Math and Science in 1998, he was a failed soccer player in a country where only one sport really counts.
But just 10 years later, he has established a foothold for the unlikeliest of games in the Central American nation thanks to his two months spent in Alexandria.
Rojas, 27, has set up lacrosse as an official sport in Costa Rica, despite much of the country being unaware it exists.
Rojas himself didnt even known what lacrosse was until he saw the his host familys son lugging around the stick with the funny shaped head.
I was sitting around watching TV one day when I saw him with a bag and the lacrosse stick over his shoulder, Rojas explained. I was intrigued and asked him about what it was. From there, I went to watch him play. It was a while before I got the courage to have a go, though.
I remember the son of the family well Mike Cummings he was called. He can take a lot of the credit for lacrosse making its way down to Costa Rica.
That brief, but lingering introduction gave rise to a fascination with the sport. After the encounter, Rojas used every opportunity to get a lacrosse fix. He would watch it on TV whenever the opportunity arose. He trawled web sites to learn more about the game he came to realize was developed by native North Americans.
One of things that interests me about lacrosse is the fact it was originally the sport of the indigenous Americans in areas of what is now the United States, said Rojas.
A further trip to Brooklyn, NY, where members of his extended family live, cemented his affiliation with lacrosse. But it was about another seven years before he took a leap of faith and set about officially setting up the sport in his homeland. Me and my brother were actually sitting watching lacrosse on TV when he said, Why dont we just go and play, said Rojas. It was that simple.
But things were primitive in the beginning. The expense of importing equipment forced them to substitute the regulation lacrosse balls with tennis balls. They also called upon football shirts and pads as they continued to improvise in the absence of official gear.
All things being relative, progress has been made, he added. We had to do what we could, said Rojas. Weve moved on from there now, though.
A group of organizers, led by Rojas, is already in the process of consolidating a small domestic league, and theyve now registered the game with the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute. We have three teams here right now and hope to have four in the near future, explained the 27 year-old pharmacist Rojas.
But already they are tracing ambitious plans to compete at international level within five years, with a tournament involving the wider Central American region touted as a possibility by Rojas.
US Lacrosse, the sports governing body in the United States, has recently shown an interest in injecting some much needed cash to develop the game, according to Rojas. We have had problems with funding. The equipment is quite expensive. Take me, for example. Im a pharmacist and earn $1000 per month. If I was in the United States Id be earning $6000, say, and spending cash to get more equipment wouldnt be too much of a problem.
US Lacrosse being in touch is good news and we hope that will come to something.
Lacrosses journey south to soccer-mad Costa Rica was indeed an unlikely one, Rojas said.
Few people are aware of the sport in Costa Rica and Rojas admitted he had a similar viewpoint until his excursion as a foreign exchange student. Even when I went to register the sport officially at the national institute, the person I spoke to said something like, Lacrosse, oh thats something with motorbikes, right? he laughed.
But those who arrive religiously each Sunday for practice on, ironically, a soccer field in a run down part of the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, are bursting with eagerness.
Esteban Carazo, 27, gave up field hockey for lacrosse. Its tough, but a lot of fun, he said.
Jose Pablo Atavia was a late arrival, but he throws on his makeshift gear as if he has precious little time in which to make an impression. I love the game, he said.
The group still raises a few eyebrows as they strut their stuff on the rough grass. Spectators are often intrigued by the stick and how the players pass and catch the ball.
Rojas said if more funds can be generated for equipment, they will be able to tell intrigued bystanders to forget the questions and join them for a game.