It all began when a little 12-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis (CF) sent a letter asking a big hockey player for help.
Cystic Fibrosis is the most common fatal genetic disease affecting Canadian children and young adults. It is a multi-system disease that affects mainly the lungs and the digestive system.
What she was hoping to do, was have Rod Brind’Amour, at that time a player on the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, come back to his home town and boost a fundraising golf tournament with his presence. Brind’Amour was a young player then, just beginning to establish himself as a star power forward. He would later go on to lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup victory in 2006 before retiring and taking up his current coaching position with the team.
In 1995, Wood was a young girl struggling with a disease that killed people in their 20s, giving the youngster a life expectancy then of approximately 10 more years.
That was 20 years ago. Brind’Amour said yes to the little girl’s request and agreed to lend his name and his presence to a fundraising golf tournament. The Campbell River chapter of Cystic Fibrosis Canada was at that time attempting to establish a fundraising event to raise money for research that would hopefully find a cure for the disease.
“I remember the Campbell River chapter kind of wanting to do a big fundraiser,” Wood said. “They were brainstorming ideas of who could be a celebrity spokesperson. The name Rod Brind’Amour was rolled around because he was from Campbell River.”
With the pluck that Wood is known for, the 12-year-old said she would contact Brind’Amour to see if he would like to help. With her mother Chris Black’s help, she drafted up a letter and mailed it off, care of the Philadelphia Flyers. Lo and behold, the letter “got through” to Brind’Amour, Wood said.
Brind’Amour remembers getting the letter.
“Back then I was a younger kid in the NHL,” he said. “I never really viewed myself as a role model.”
Wood’s letter described her condition and what she was going through on a daily basis, Brind’Amour said. At that time he knew absolutely nothing about CF but the little girl’s story got through to him.
“It touched me a little bit,” Brind’Amour said. “I had no idea what (CF) was. I didn’t know anyone who had it.”
But he did a bit of research and got to know what the disease was and decided he would help. He didn’t see himself as a celebrity but he saw the value in getting an NHL player involved because it would attract attention to the event and the disease.
“I think at the outset, it was just to create awareness,” Brind’Amour said. Brind’Amour and others felt it was just going to be a one-time event.
One of the event organizers, Todd Peachey, said the local CF Chapter had been looking to grow its fundraising golf tournament into a bigger event because “the small thing wasn’t really working.” It was decided that if Brind’Amour was coming home for a visit in the summer anyway, he might be willing to help. So, Wood sent her letter to Brind’Amour.
“That letter reached Rod and it resonated with him,” Peachey said. “And that’s basically how it got started.”
The length of the commitment was up in the air.
“Our idea was we would do this every year,” Peachey said. “Rod’s idea was he was going to do it once. Once we did a first one, we asked ‘What did you think about doing it again?'”
Brind’Amour agreed if his initial conditions for coming were continued, namely that it be a classy event and that all the money goes toward CF. Brind’Amour’s standards were high and they applied to himself. He has been to every Rod Brind’Amour Cystic Fibrosis Golf Classic/Dinner and Auction, which grew to include a gala evening that includes a silent and a live auction.
“He’s been to every one,” Peachey said. “He pays for his own way here. Rod said not one penny that was supposed to go to the charity would go to sports figures.”
Brind’Amour has often brought friends and playing colleagues with him. The golf tournament itself is set up to take the focus off the competition and put it on participation. The teams are set up to be evenly based on mixing handicaps so that the chances of winning prizes are high for everyone.
After the second year, a major portion of the event became the dinner and auction which actually raises more money than the golfing. The golf tournament accommodates about 155 golfers at Storey Creek Golf Course, which is about as many as can be handled on the course. The evening gala, meanwhile, brings in about 350 people and the focal point is Brind’Amour’s speech.
“Most of the money in the tournament is being raised through corporate sponsorship and the silent auction and the live auction,” Peachey said.
In the first year with Brind’Amour’s involvement, $17,000 was raised.
“That blew away any expectations that we had,” Peachey said.
On average, the Rod Brind’Amour Golf Classic raises $80,000-$100,000 each year. The best year was 2006 when $140,000 was raised.
In total, the event has raised about $1.3 million. It has become CF Canada’s biggest single fundraising event.
“It’s unbelievable. When you consider CF isn’t a high profile fundraiser, so when a little town like Campbell River can raise that kind of money…” Peachey says. “It’s an unbelievable amount of money.”
The classic has become a high profile event in the community that garners massive support from businesses and individuals.
“It’s become a community event,” Peachey said. “It’s as much a part of Campbell River as going to the (Discovery Fishing) Pier for an ice cream.”
Brind’Amour’s wholehearted support is unwavering. During the golf tournament he plants himself at the 17th hole – 17 was Brind’Amour’s sweater number – and greets each and every golfer that comes through. They get to talk to him and have a picture taken with him.
Not only did the golf tournament start with Wood’s personal letter to Brind’Amour but so did a strong friendship that has lasted 20 years as well. Brind’Amour and Wood have been to each other’s weddings. They see other once or twice a year. Brind’Amour calls her whenever the CF or its complications overwhelm her and she gets particularly sick.
“It’s a special relationship,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s something I hold dear to my heart.”
Through it all, Brind’Amour has nothing but admiration for Wood and what she has to go through in dealing with her disease.
“It’s just the courage and strength that she shows,” Brind’Amour said.
The ultimate goal of the golf tournament was to help find a cure for CF. That hasn’t been reached. Yet.
“To be honest, I was kind of hoping we wouldn’t have to have so many events,” Wood said. “I really had in my mind that we would find a cure by now.”
But research has resulted in some exciting progress and great strides have been made in the treatment of CF patients. Children who weren’t expected to live past their 20th year are now living into their forties and longer. There are now more adults with CF than children, a testament to how long people with the disease are living now.
Wood is amazed that the golf tournament has been running for so long and you could be amazed that Brind’Amour has been involved the whole time. But knowing him so well, Wood said that commitment and loyalty is typical of Brind’Amour.
“It’s an honour that he’s come to show his support for it but, honestly, it’s no surprise to me,” Wood said. “That’s just the kind of guy he is.”
Wood said Brind’Amour is a selfless, giving person who places others before himself. And Brind’Amour brings the same level of commitment to this cause that he brought to his playing career.
“I think because of his background, he knows how much it takes to get something you want,” Wood said.
Toss into that mix a committed community and you shouldn’t be surprised by anything that results from this.
“Every time I go to the golf tournament I see that everybody there is supporting CF,” Wood said. “I take that very personally and I have so much gratitude for everyone.
“I really would like to just thank not only the sponsors and supporters of the event but volunteers and the people who buy the tickets…every single person who is involved.”
The once-little girl, now a grown woman, and the big hockey player are two of a kind and you get the feeling that if anybody is going to provide the drive toward finding a cure it is those two.
The 20th Annual Rod Brind’Amour Cystic Fibrosis Golf Classic/Dinner Auction will be held June 13 – 14 at Storey Creek Golf Course.