I have talked in the past of the wonderful opportunities that have arisen as a result of my collection. Aside from the media attention, blogs, talk of a couple books, documentaries, the many athletes, politicians, billionaires and dignitaries that have visited, it’s the charities that really resonate with myself, Deb and the kids.
We support anti-bullying, road to conquer cancer, mental illness and depression, Derringers 13 days, MLSE foundation, just to mention a few. Another on our list is CAN Fund and we recently hosted our third annual event.
CAN Fund has been in existence over 10 years, founded by ex-Olympians Jane Roos and her husband Conrad Leinemann, who have dedicated their lives to help support our Canadian athletes. Our Canadian athletes receive funding that amounts to roughly $1,500 a month, that they use to live, train and support themselves. While some of our elite level competitors have some form of sponsorship, for the majority of the athletes, they are on their own.
CAN Fund distributes qualified athletes a maximum amount of $6,000 at a time which they can apply twice a year. However, they don’t always receive funding as there are over 800 needy athletes currently on the list for support, and there is not always funding for all who apply.
You may at this point be saying to yourself, certainly there must be more pressing causes in Canada than giving athletes money to compete and travel the globe?
We live in a very tough world that is full of hardship, terrorism, incurable diseases and the daily grind to just survive. The beauty of sports at an elite level, for that couple of seconds, minutes or hours allows us to put aside the harsh reality of life and lose ourselves in that moment in time. The event can take a whole different twist when the athlete or team is wearing the Canadian flag across their chest. This is one time we can unite as a country and be represented on the world stage with the chance to be the best. Nothing brings more pride to a country or make life’s miseries seem insignificant, than watching the Canadian flag lifted to the rafters in victory. Remember the Vancouver Olympics in 2010? The Sidney Crosby’s goal? Donavan Bailey’s 100 meter gold medal in Atlanta? But like anything we try too accomplish in the competitive landscape we live in today, not only victory, but also the ability to compete comes with a price.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London my friend John’s daughter Rosie MacLennan competed for Canada on the trampoline, winning our only gold medal during the Games. I just like anyone watching that Saturday morning, rode the emotional high with Rosie during the competition, leading to the top of the podium while “Oh Canada” played and our flag rose high for the world to see. At that moment nothing mattered except the pride I felt as a Canadian.
Rosie as a Canfund recipient, used the $6,000 to have her car fixed so she could get to practice to train.
I spoke with John and asked if there was anything we could do to help Rosie with some sponsorship because the cost to train was so high. To give you an idea, Rosie as a CAN Fund recipient, used the $6,000 to have her car fixed so she could get to practice to train. Deb and I met with John, Rosie and Jane to enlighten us about CAN Fund and the wonderful work they did. We came up with a plan once Deb and I were comfortable how the process worked and that all of the money went directly to the athletes. (We will not support any charitable events otherwise and with all our charity work, every dime goes direct to the foundation.)
Making our way around our Room, Rosie suddenly stopped us, “Deb and Mike, I just want too really thank you so much for doing this for me. My sport doesn’t get a lot of attention and now that I’ve won, we are getting some notice. There are a number of athletes going too Sochi that could really use some help financially, would you mind if I shared the money you raise with some of them?”
I remember looking at Deb and saying, “Are we backing the right horse or what?”
We have risen close to $350,000 the last three years and over 30 athletes so far have benefited directly from our events.
One of the perks for Deb and I has been to be a part of the “call” to the athlete informing them, they will receive financial aid. And what an experience that has been. These kids ask for nothing, never complain and everyone immediately asks what they can do to help. I jokingly inform them it’s mandatory that when they win a medal they have to come to our home and have their picture taken with me. Last year five time Olympian, Jayna Hefford who was one of the recipients of funding from our event leading up to Sochi in 2014, attended our event as a celebrity. I remember standing upstairs talking when I felt a tap on the shoulder and it was Jayna, who then directed me, downstairs in front of the Team Canada case, pulled two of her gold medals from her purse, “Mike I believe I owe you a picture.”
Now on to this year’s highlight at our recent event. I was greeting early arrivals at the front door with Conrad when a cab pulled into our driveway, he waved at the car while turning to me, “Oh Mike this is Karine Thomas the synchronized swimmer we helped last year, remember when we called her? Well she flew in from Montreal to be here to not only support the event but to thank you and Deb in person for helping her.”
Karine approached with a big smile hugged and thanked me for supporting her. She hugged Deb. Later that evening during the speeches, the athletes say a few words, show their medals and thank the people in attendance for the support. I usually end the speeches with a few words of thanks and praise for CAN Fund and our supporters.
The last speaker before me was Karine who spoke of her career, upcoming Olympics in Rio and the two gold medals she won at the Pan Am games in Toronto last summer. It was at that moment she turned to me and said, “And I really want to thank Mike for all you do for the athletes and especially me, you have no idea how much you helped me,” Her words started to fade as she welled up with tears in her eyes and at the same time took the gold medal from around her neck, “And I want you too have this because without your help I would never have won it.”
The room went deadly silent and it was all I could do to keep my composure, never mind the fact I was speechless, which at the best of times is near impossible for those who know me. I could barely get the words out to express the gratitude for such a thoughtful gesture. Needless to say I wasn’t the only one in the room with tears in my eyes. One patron was so moved by Karine’s gesture he purchased a beautiful diamond ring that she was modeling for the auctioneer during the live auction and then gave it too her. Now there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Having now completed our third event for CAN Fund the experience just seems to get better year after year. It’s a rarity that every person attending and supporting our events will know the exact athlete that is receiving money as a result of our evening. That’s a powerful tool watching the Olympics cheering along with fellow workers while Dara Howell wins gold in freestyle skiing, knowing we helped in our small way as an example.
If I managed to hold your interest this long, then you haven’t thought about any day to day nuisance that will still be there the minute you stop reading. Isn’t it nice to read a story about athletes that not only care, are thankful for the opportunity to represent us on an international stage and want to give back?
Karine Thomas said we changed her life forever and will be forever grateful. She shared a part of her soul with me by gifting her gold medal and changed my life forever as a result, because I will carry this emotional, uplifting story until the day I die. How can you not support someone like that?