The pandemic may have knocked large-scale fundraisers to their knees these last couple of years but Fight for the Cure has never gone down for the count.
It was back in action Saturday to reclaim its title as one of the most entertaining and exciting nights for the Ottawa business community.
The white-collar boxing event and dinner gala has also become highly successful, raising more than $1 million for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation (ORCF), which helps people diagnosed with cancer across Eastern Ontario by funding local research and clinical trials and by delivering community-based, non-medical support through its new Ottawa Community Cancer Hub.
This February, you can support one of Canada’s most distinguished heart health centres by making a donation or raising funds on its behalf.
First-time attendees included Michael Maidment, president and CEO of the ORCF. He was thrilled to be there, of course, but he also felt a sense of relief in knowing the money from the event will help patients during a time when there’s been a tremendous backlog in cancer cases, due to the pandemic.
This year’s fundraiser nearly doubled the previous record-breaking total set in 2019, when the event was last held. Returning as the presenting sponsor was the Heart & Crown. The family-owned Irish pub has been supporting FFTC since the beginning. Tony Graham Family Foundation and Inflector Environmental Services were also among the larger sponsors.
The boxers each made a grand entrance, wearing hooded robes and accompanied by an entourage. The fighters stepped into the conspicuous ring erected in the middle of the ballroom and, for the next several minutes, gave it their all before a cheering crowd of more than 1,000 people.
There was a panel of judges to decide the winner of each bout but, really, on a night like this, there are no losers. It takes guts and courage to do what these men did.
Among those watching in the crowd was former FFTC fighter Shawn Hamilton, vice president of business development for CANDEREL. He has no plans to give it another go. “But, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” he added. “I loved it. It was hard, but it was awesome.”
Fight for the Cure requires participants to commit to training between two to three times a week for seven or eight months in order to get in boxing shape for what’s considered one of the toughest sports in the world. On top of their training, participants also raise as much money as they can from friends, family, colleagues and business contacts.
FFTC welcomed its first female boxers in 2018, followed by another pair in 2019. There were no women fighting this year, only because organizers couldn’t find two women of similar size.
This year’s top fundraiser was Wired Synergy president and CEO Roch Picknell. He took on James Nguyen, co-founder and CEO of Ottawa-based startup Quantropi, and won.
Because Picknell matched all the donations made to him, he reached a total of $402,000. Also bringing in the bucks were John Zinati, of Zinati Commercial Realty Brokerage, and Inflector Environmental Services vice president and area manager Michael Simmons. They each raised $100,000 for the cause.
Simmons’ winning match against Alex Charette from Scotia Wealth Management was called the “fight of the night” by returning emcee Walter Robinson. Simmons is the second business leader from Inflector to participate in Fight for the Cure. CEO Jeff Clarke fought in 2019 and raised the most money in the history of the event. He was there that night, literally in Simmons’ corner.
Mike Penney, global account manager at Assent Compliance, fought Dan Marques, principal at Cresa, and won. Zinati beat Tommy Ladouceur, manager at Serco Realty Group.
Rashad Aumeerally, CEO at Titan Capital Properties, lost against Frank Ciccolini, commercial insurance manager with Masters Insurance. The final fight saw Josh Garellek, co-founder and CEO of Arctic Leaf and co-founder of PartnerPortal.io, beat Phil Lemieux, general manager of Airon Group of Companies.
After each three-round match, the boxers – still sweaty, tired and breathless — spoke with Robinson in the ring about their reasons for participating in FFTC. They had personal stories of loved ones and friends diagnosed with cancer. Several participants were inspired by the high-profile fight in 2012 between Justin Trudeau and Sen. Patrick Brazeau that saw the underdog win and go on to become prime minister of Canada a few years later.
Aumeerally is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed 40 years ago with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer. The survival rate was 50/50 at the time. Today, it’s closer to 90 percent. He’s a long-time supporter of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation.
Fifteen years ago, Scott Whitteker and his big brother, Matt Whitteker, co-founded Fight for the Cure. They were barely adults and, admittedly, total lightweights when it came to organizing the thing.
“We had no idea how to put on a boxing match,” acknowledged Matt, a successful Ottawa entrepreneur who co-founded Assent Compliance and, more recently, is CEO and co-founder of e-commerce sports marketing platform MILLIONS.co. “We had no idea how to put on a white-collar boxing match and we had no idea how to fundraise.”
While the event has enjoyed a loyal following and sponsorship, he told everyone that credit really goes to Scott for doing the work of many. “This event happens because of one single person,” said Matt before introducing his younger brother to the stage, referring to him as “one of my heroes”.