Heroes bring the heat against cancer
Cancer survivor Karter Ellis (front, right) walks alongside former CFL placekicker Dan Giancola during Saturday's 7th annual Heater's Heroes at Oakes Park. PHOTO: John Law / Niagara Falls Review
Every year, Mike Strange takes stock of the kids who have participated in his Heater's Heroes fundraiser. And every year, the list loses some names.
Sick kids who walked the track at Oakes Park alongside him, raising money for local children fighting cancer. They are sometimes the same kids he does a 'dedication lap' for later on.
It's what makes this annual fundraiser such an emotional ordeal for Strange, the former Olympic boxer and current city councillor who started the event in 2011. It's named after Strange's mentor Bob 'Heater' Lavelle, a Niagara Falls bar owner who organized several high profile charity events in the city – including the NHL Slo-Pitch Classic – before he died of cancer in 2009.
Saturday was the event's seventh year. And they aren't getting easier.
“If you think you're having a bad day, come on down here and listen to the (story) of one of these children and what they've gone through,” he says. “This will give you a little reality check.”
Every year, Strange joins a handful of Niagara kids for a lap around Oakes Park. This year's event was supposed to include seven children. Only six made it.
One-year-old Alexander Ward passed away just days before the event.
Another dedication lap that had Strange fighting back tears Saturday.
A solemn moment in an otherwise uplifting day. One which raises about $15,000 per year.
“It's a fantastic event,” says Niagara Falls' Shawn Ellis, whose son Karter led the first lap. “It's a great outreach to elevate people.”
After four surgeries and 16 chemo treatments, Karter took $700 of his own money and started the Karters Smile Crusade. It helps him create shirts with slogans like “this guy is kicking cancer's butt” and “chemo ninja,” which he donates to fellow patients.
“Mike e-mailed us, and I was ready for it,” he said. “Last year I was just ending chemo.”
Walking alongside Ellis for his lap was Heater's Heroes regular Dan Giancola, former placekicker with the Toronto Argonauts.
The Niagara Falls resident says fundraising events like this helped “fill a hole” after he retired from football in 2009.
“I tell Mike not to ask me to come any more. Just give me the time and date, and I'll be there.”
Along with Ellis, this year's 'heroes' were Maximus Janssen, Maliya Lafayette, Connor Dougherty, Boston Riddick and Julianne Minszk.