Just like so many of the greatest boxers, Fight for the Cure has gone from humble beginnings to glory.
In its inaugural year, back in 2008, the charity white-collar boxing night raised a measly $500. Slap a few zeros onto the end of that figure and you’ve got this year’s record-breaking net total of more than $522,000 for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. At FFTC's launch party this past spring, its goal was $400,000.
The remarkable success was achieved with the help of business sponsors — including title sponsor Heart & Crown Irish Pubs — and a dozen wannabe boxers who work regular office-type jobs, for the most part.
The competitors spent the past nine months honing their boxing skills and mustering up the guts to step into the ring. They fought their respective opponent for their first time this past Saturday night at the Hilton Lac-Leamy in Gatineau. Win or lose, there was a sold-out crowd of 1,100 spectators watching them and cheering them on.
Fight for the Cure, which has proven to be one of the top business networking events around, is organized pretty much by one guy. “One person put this on; just one person,” Assent Compliance co-founder Matt Whitteker told the room as he proudly introduced his younger brother, Scott Whitteker, director of Fight for the Cure. The Whitteker brothers created the event together and Scott works closely every year to help participants get into boxing shape.
“The first rule of Fight for the Cure," began Matt Whitteker, while referencing film favourite Fight Club, “is you need to talk about Fight for the Cure."
That includes talking about the cause. All the proceeds from the evening go toward the cancer foundation’s support of clinical trials and research against cancer and its cancer coaching program to help cancer patients and their families through the challenging journey of dealing with the deadly disease.
Most of the competitors not only achieved but also exceeded their fundraising goal, cumulatively raising close to $400,000. In a class of his own was Jeff Clarke, president and CEO of Inflector Environmental Services.
“I met Jeff Clarke about a year ago,” Scott Whitteker told the crowd. “He told me, “Scott, I’m going to quit smoking — which he did, just to throw that in — and I want to raise $100,000 for Fight for the Cure.
“At that meeting I thought to myself ‘Good luck, buddy’,” confessed Whitteker, who’s probably pretty glad he kept those doubts to himself.
Clarke went on to raise nearly $180, 000, making him the top fundraiser ever in the nine-year history of the event (there've been a few years when FFTC didn't take place). The 29-year-old chief executive was awarded a special plaque that night by Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation president and CEO Linda Eagen. His company was a sponsor, as well.
Also hauling in some serious dough was Marc Morin, co-founder of Koble Commercial Real Estate and Brokerage. He was the second-highest fundraiser, bringing in $80,350.
Among the sponsors spotted in the room were: the Bradley family from the Heart & Crown Irish Pubs (including 2018 Fight for the Cure champ Michael Bradley), Maureen Graham from the Tony Graham Family Foundation, Jon Hughes from the Hughes Foundation, and Pat Santini, senior law partner at Kelly Santini, which can now boast about having two of its female lawyers fight in the event, two years in a row.
Also back as sponsors were Extension Marketing founder and CEO Pat Whalen and ExecHealth president Sanjay Shah. Huntington Properties, represented by founding partner Alan Whitten and his adult children, stepped up as a sponsor after business partner Derek Noble wanted to participate but was unable to.
The evening featured a silent auction and a chance to win $5,000. The prize winner, Suzanne Racine, donated her winnings back to the cause.
Attendees gathered for cocktails and dinner before watching the back-to-back fights. The adrenaline-pumped competitors appeared through a cloud of smoke to make their epic ring entrance, with lights flashing, music thumping, and an entourage following behind.
The room was full of the fighters’ friends, family and colleagues, leading to a level of intensity and excitement never seen at local charity events — with the exception of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation’s Dancing with the Docs. As Matt Whitteker reminded everyone: “Boxing isn’t golf, so let’s make this room energetic.
"Let’s have fun tonight. Let’s make this a night to remember.”
"Let’s make this a night to remember."
The guests learned, through a series of inspiring videos prepared for the evening, how cancer has touched the lives of the competitors. They also spoke about their personal motivation with host Walter Robinson, who’s both a former FFTC white-collar boxer and board chair of the cancer foundation.
Robinson made this promise to all the first-time attendees in the room before the action started: “You’re in for one hell of an evening that you will never, ever forget. This is the best fundraiser in the Ottawa-Carleton region, bar none.”
First up was the much-anticipated fight between Clarke and Kyle Turk, whom Clarke described as “a tough son of a bitch” after losing his three-round match. Turk, who is the vice president of marketing for Keynote Group, raised $18,000 and did an excellent job of getting donations through his clever social media marketing.
Morin put up a good fight but was beat by Rob Hewitt, an advisor with CRESA. Paul Brooks, founder of Paul’s Pharmasave in Manotick, went head-to-head with Marc Harrison, vice-president of corporate development with Assent Compliance, a leading supply chain data management company. Harrison, who was the fourth fighter to participate over the years from Assent Compliance, was declared the winner. So was Dollarwise CEO Pierre Begin after swapping punches with lawyer Brad Yaeger, an associate at BLG (Borden Ladner Gervais).
It there’s such a thing as a feel-good fight, it was between Kelly Santini lawyer Afton Maisonneuve and RCMP officer Megan Apostoleris, who ended up winning. Maisonneuve not only embraced her opponent after the fight but she lifted her off the ground with her exuberant bear hug.
Maisonneuve, who is a reservist with the Cameron Highlanders (Duke of Edinburgh's Own), had one of the best ring walks of the night; she was escorted by a lone piper.
The final heavyweight fight between Colin Noble, regional coach with Business Development Canada, and Kyle Dowd, a branch manager with BMO Bank of Montreal, did not disappoint. After it was all over, Dowd described his Fight for the Cure experience as “life changing” while Noble, who won the match and raised $22,413 for the cause, encouraged those interested in participating to go for it. “Anybody can do this,” he told Robinson in the ring. “It’s a lot of work but it’s a tonne of fun, and it’s very rewarding.”
Which brings us to Matt Whitteker’s seventh and final rule for Fight for the Cure: “If you want to get in the best shape of your life, raise money and put on a show and participate, we’d love to hear from you.”