Steamboat Springs Kevin Bertrand has spent the better part of his life on American soil and about half of it with a stick in hand, playing on lacrosse fields in Steamboat Springs.
So why is Bertrand wearing France proudly across his lacrosse jersey in Denver these days, squaring off against some of the best the professional game has to offer in the FIL World Championships?
It’s where he was born, and the opportunity to represent his home country on a national stage in the state that has been his home since he was 6 years old was a no-brainer.
Bertrand — born in Paris — first heard that the FIL World Championships would be coming to Denver during his final year at Adams State University, stumbling upon the news on Facebook. He wasted no time sending a message, with a long-shot idea of representing his birth country.
“I was like, oh my God, do you guys have the coach contact for team France?” Bertrand said. “I got the contact for coach (James) Johnson and gave him my story.”
And Bertrand’s story is a deep one in the world of lacrosse. He got his first taste of the sport in eighth grade as part of the Steamboat youth program. He then played all four years for Steamboat Springs High School before competing at the collegiate level at Adams State. He's now the coach of the Steamboat Springs High School freshman team.
He helped start an Adams State Grizzlies program from the ground up, much like what’s happening with Team France at the World Championships. With a group largely new to the sport, Bertrand said he’s been doing his best to get some newer players up to speed, all while leading the French with a team-high 11 goals through four games as of Monday.
“I’ve gotten a couple lucky opportunities, and I take advantage of all the ones I can get,” Bertrand said. “Right now, it’s about building the program and helping the French get up. A lot of the French guys learned how to play on YouTube.”
Just getting the chance to compete for the French involved luck and good timing. Bertrand first contacted coach Johnson, who subsequently invited him for an overseas tryout in October. But school conflicts got in the way, Bertrand said, during his final semester before graduating in December.
Bertrand’s dream didn’t die there, though. The French team was slated to play a pre-championship friendly at Copper earlier this month, and Bertrand was invited to come out. It wasn’t exactly a tryout, he was told, and chances of actually making the final roster were slim. But still, he couldn’t help but try.
And his efforts paid off.
“They welcomed me with open arms,” Bertrand said. “The minute I walked into the door they accepted me as one of them. I didn’t think twice about considering them my friends.”
He’s still settling in with his team, which has struggled a bit to a 1-3 record at the championships with its lone win coming Sunday against Uganda, 9-2.
A lot of the experience is foreign, so to speak. The players are different, and certainly, the team names are unlike anything he saw at Adams State. The chance, though, is an opportunity of a lifetime, one he plans to carry over in two years at the European Championships.
“It’s unreal,” Bertrand said about the national stage. “It’s kind of like still hitting me here and there. This is the first time I’ve sang the French national anthem, not the U.S. anthem. That’s when it really kicked in. I thought, ‘Man, this is crazy.’”
France will be back on the field Tuesday, playing either Turkey or Austria. The team will play every day through Friday’s finale. Some games are being streamed live on WatchESPN.com.
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll