By unanimous decision, the 2018 Fight for the Cure clinched this year's title of most thrilling charity event.
Twelve men and women swapped business suits for boxing gloves and — following eight months of intense training – squared off Saturday night in a boxing ring that was on conspicuous display inside the ballroom of the Hilton Lac Leamy.
Surrounding the first-time fighters were bright lights, big screens and the screaming voices of 1,000 excited spectators. Their motivation for participating had less to do with improving their fitness or learning a new sport and more to do with raising money to fight a devastating disease – cancer – that has touched them all.
The exhilarating evening was chiefly organized by Scott Whitteker, director of FFTC. He's also a co-founder of the event with his older brother, Matt Whitteker.
The siblings have watched their boxing event grow from a small benefit that raised just $500 in its first year to a must-attend evening that sells out months in advance. This year’s FFTC raised $238,500 for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and its efforts to improve cancer care in the region through cancer coaching, local research and clinical trials.
Returning as presenting sponsor was the Heart & Crown Irish Pubs. Also back was former five-time white-collar boxer Walter Robinson as emcee.
The gala began with cocktails and dinner followed by six action-packed, white-collar matches that often ended with – not handshakes nor manly back pats — but genuine hugs.
Michael Bradley (Heart & Crown Irish Pubs) defeated Derek Newberry (Humanscale) in their three-round bout while Matt Jacques (Cresa Ottawa) beat Jason Tilley (Cushman & Wakefield Ottawa). Scott McRae (Ottawa Police Services) bested Mitri Nesrallah (Sysco Canada) and, similarly, Daphne Ballard (Christopher A. Moore Professional Corporation) won against her good friend and Irish gaelic football teammate Lisa Langevin (Kelly Santini LLP). Their fight was the first female white-collar match-up in the event’s history. The pair got a standing ovation from the crowd after they were done boxing.
Jeff Westeinde (Zibi) came out ahead against Wayne Liko (Horizant.ca) while heavy hitter Rick Hiladie (Assent Compliance) successfully took on Donnie Ruiz (CFL/Elite Performance Academy).
Each competitor was expected to raise money through online donations. Westeinde, 52, went above and beyond by bringing in more than $60,000 and earning himself a special plaque from the cancer foundation. Westeinde is the president of Zibi, which is co-developing a sustainable downtown waterfront community on the Chaudière and Albert islands, on the Ottawa River.
Last year, organizers had asked Westeinde whether he was interested in fighting after one boxer had to pull out.
“Not really,” he responded. So, they asked him whether he was interested in fighting in 2018. “Not really,” he once again replied.
That was all before one of his closest friends, Jeff La Morre, an investment advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy, was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma, meaning the cancer had spread to other parts of his body.
Upon learning the news, Westeinde decided to toss his hat in the ring.
“It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done,” he joked. On the positive side, the married father of five was joined at FFTC by his immediate family, including his out-of-town children. And, he had La Morre in his corner acting as one of his trainers.
For years, the two dads coached boys' hockey together. Particularly meaningful to Westeinde was the number of donations made by their sons' pals and former teammates.
Westeinde couldn't wait to have a beer after his fight.
"I haven't drank in the last month and, boy, is it going to taste good," he told Robinson on stage.
The women boxers made their splashy entrance toward the ring while escorted by their children. After they finished duking it out, the young kids climbed through the ropes and into the ring to hug their sweaty and exhausted moms.
Learning how to become an amateur boxer was a long process, said Langevin, who raised $17,000 (almost as much as Jacques) in honour of her father, whom she lost to cancer. The law partner at Kelly Santini faced many late nights of driving home from her training in tears, feeling discouraged and fretful that she would publicly embarrass herself, and that their boxing match would resemble a cat fight.
“Now we feel ready,” she told OBJ.social prior to stepping into the ring with Ballard to fight for their first time against one another. “We just have to have faith in the training, and confidence with what we have learned. We're just going to go out there and have fun, and breathe. Deep breaths.
"It's all going to be good."
The women trained under the guidance of Scott Whitteker after their designated female trainer became pregnant. As an expression of their deep gratitude to Whitteker, the women coordinated a group gift to send him to Vegas.
Spotted in the crowd were Larry Bradley and Pat Kelly, co-owners of the Heart & Crown Irish Pubs, as well as other such sponsors as Maureen Graham from the Tony Graham Automotive Group, Extension Marketing founder Pat Whalen, Keynote Group founders James Baker and Donna Baker, Sanjay Shah from ExecHealth, and a gang of lawyers from Kelly Santini LLP.