By Craig Rybczynski -- Chris McElroy knows the importance of giving back: He has dedicated his life to serving others. You get a sense of his purpose, which borders on the spiritual, when he talks about lacrosse.

“I give back to the game because I have had so many great opportunities through lacrosse,” said McElroy. “The most respectful way I can show my appreciation for what I’ve received from the game is to give back to youth. Over the years, I have had more of a keen interest in giving back to First Nations youth and celebrating the culture of the game."

His passion for lacrosse has allowed him to travel throughout the United States and Canada teaching the game. His formula for success centers on a three-prong approach, which involves skill development, teaching the cultural aspects of lacrosse and leadership training.

These days, McElroy has taken his talents to the Songhees First Nation, which is located near Victoria, BC. Although not playing in the National Lacrosse League this season, his dedication to the game is as strong as ever.

The 31-year-old, who, after finishing university moved to Victoria to play for the Western Lacrosse Association’s Shamrocks, spends his time volunteering in the nearby First Nations community. McElroy is beginning to introduce lacrosse into the small community on southern Vancouver Island through several camps he will be running at the community’s new Wellness Centre.

I have been volunteering with the sports youth program. I have done drop-in camps to introduce the sport,” said McElroy. “My goal is to start doing a consistent lacrosse program. It’s really in the early stages.”

He said that 15 to 20 kids have attended each event, but "interest is growing." McElroy's vision is consistent with that of Rochester Knighthawks Owner Curt Styres, whose “Walk with Us” program has the mission of “growing the game of lacrosse around the world, striving to place a lacrosse stick in every First Nations’ child’s hands."

“Even though I am not playing, I still want to be involved in giving back to the game and helping it grow,” said McElroy, who is an ambassador for Walk with Us and the Right To Play’s Lacrosse for Development program. “I share the same vision that Curt has in growing lacrosse to as many First Nations’ communities as possible. I am going to continue to do that and stay connected to the game I became passionate about.”

McElroy began his National Lacrosse League career in 2005 with the Anaheim Storm as part of a nine-year playing career that included 101 games in stints with Anaheim, Edmonton and Washington. He spent the majority of his career in Edmonton with the Rush, suiting up for five seasons in Edmonton (2007-11), serving as its captain and earning an All-Star Game selection.

It was in Edmonton at an appearance in the First Nations community of Hobbema that McElroy developed more of an appreciation for the roots and medicinal aspects of the game.

“It all started in Edmonton. It was there where I learned about teaching the cultural and historical background of the game and working in conjunction with skill development,” said McElroy.

Rochester Knighthawks Assistant Coach Andy Secore was one of the players who accompanied him on the trip back in 2008. Secore, who played in Edmonton for three seasons, admired his roommate’s determination to teach and introduce lacrosse to kids.

 “Chris McElroy is known wherever he goes for being a great community guy,” said Secore. “Over the years, he has really dedicated himself to raising awareness of the sport at the grassroots level and growing the game for the future generations. He is a great ambassador for the sport of lacrosse.”

McElroy does not look at his volunteer work as a job. Although he would enjoy a career working with kids, he approaches it as his “responsibility as an athlete to give back.” One of his role models growing up was National Lacrosse League Hall of Famer Jim Veltman.

“I always respected the way he gave back to the game as a lacrosse player,” said McElroy. “When I was younger, in terms of lacrosse and older guys, he was someone I looked up to.”

McElroy has backed up that statement in his community outreach in Edmonton and Washington. He moved to Everett, Wash. in 2012 to play for the Stealth and immediately went to work in the Seattle suburb. With the Stealth, he was a major part of his team’s community efforts, serving as the program instructor for Sticks-2-Schools, the non-profit partner of the Stealth.

In October 2013, as part of a national speaking series, he visited over 50 schools across Canada representing Right To Play, speaking about the value of sport, the importance of an active healthy lifestyle, and the history and culture of lacrosse. He also led the partnership efforts between the NLL, the PLPA and Right To Play in establishing the L4D (Lacrosse for Development) program, which has visited over 10 First Nations communities and involved several NLL players. The L4D program has also established a partnership with Ontario's Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which focuses on implementing programs to help young offenders make positive lifestyle changes. 

“He always does the best for the game of lacrosse or the team. In Edmonton and Washington through school programs he brought the game to thousands of new kids,” said Paul Day, who coached McElroy in Edmonton for three seasons. “He is a true class act and a great ambassador for the game of lacrosse.”

McElroy has been recognized twice for his philanthropic efforts. In 2008, he was honored with the NLL Community Service Award. In 2013, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from Governor General of Canada for work with Aboriginal youth programs. But lacrosse has given him more than plaques and awards to put on his mantle.

“The more programming I have done with First Nations youth, the more I have grown connected to it. I love seeing how much the kids love the game. I think it’s an important part of First Nations’ history within our country and should be celebrated. Lacrosse is so unique compared to other sports because of the medicinal aspect and spiritual element.”

McElroy plans to stay invested with the Songhees First Nation and establish lacrosse in the area. He hopes to eventually expand his reach into additional First Nations communities in British Columbia, but he admitted he is in the preliminary stages.

“I think a holistic approach to coaching really allows you to connect with the kids and see the medicinal aspect of the game. You can also see the potential for lacrosse to teach life lessons,” said McElroy. “I just want to continue to grow the game across the country. It’s great to give back and I have a lot of fun with it.”