Schmirler Foundation sets new mark

BEN LEESON, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. -- It's been nearly 10 years since Sandra Schmirler lost her battle with cancer.

But if Sunday was any indication, her life-giving legacy is very much alive and still fighting on.

The Sandra Schmirler Foundation, whose mission is "caring for babies in crisis" through direct donations to neonatal intensive care unit facilities, held its annual telethon on the second day of action at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

The telethon, the foundation's largest fundraiser, brought in $285,344, smashing the previous record of about $179,000.

The old mark was passed early Sunday evening, in fact, even before the late draw had been played.

"I think Sandra would be in shock," said Jan Betker, who was Schirmler's third on rinks that won world championships in 1993, 1994 and 1997 and an Olympic gold medal in 1998. "And I'm sure she'd be very humbled by all of this, by all the support the foundation gets.

"Every year we're here to work the phones and we always leave with a good feeling."

"We" includes lead Marcia Gudereit, who played lead for the three-time world champions and gold medallists, as well as several other volunteers who have helped raise more than $1.4 million since 2001, when the foundation was started as a collaborative effort between the Canadian Curling Association, Scott Paper Limited and Sandra's family and friends.

"It feels incredible," Gudereit said. "I don't know what it is this year, but so many people are stepping up and giving donations.

"Sandra was a special teammate and a special friend, and to be part of this is an honour."

Francine Poisson is president of the foundation.

"It's going wonderfully," Poisson said. "The city has been unbelievable, the volunteers, the host committee."

TD-Canada Trust provided some 27 volunteers to answer phones Sunday, while Sault Area Hospital (SAH) provided 20 more.

"Some of the curlers are helping, too, and lost of friends of the foundation," Poisson added.

Alan Hodgins chairs the foundation board, which is also made up of volunteers.

"This is our largest fundraiser, and we only hold it once a year," Hodgins said. "This is where the majority of our funding comes from.

"It costs about $50,000 to donate one life-saving piece of equipment to a neonatal care ward. And if every curling fan donated $1, we'd have $3.8 million to work with."

Last week, the foundation made a donation of $30,000 to SAH's neonatal intensive care unit.

While the telethon is over, donations to the foundation can be made at any time.

For more information, call 1-800-866-210-6011 or visit www.sandraschmirler.org .

"Not every child grows up to be a champion like Sandra," Hodgins said. "But every child deserves the chance."

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The Schmirler File

Who: Sandra Schmirler

Born: June 11, 1963

Died: March 3, 2000 following a courageous bout with cancer

Children: Two girls, Sara,12 and Jenna, 10

Nationality: Canadian

Sport: Curling

Curling accolades: Won three national championships, three world championships and skipped Canada's rink to a gold meadl at the 1998 Winter Olympics

The Sandra Schmirler Foundation: Annual telethon that donates proceeds to neonatal intensive care unit facilities

Money raised: This year's telethon in Sault Ste. Marie raised $285,344, smashing the previous record of $179,000

Of Note: When Schmirler died, CBC and TSN both broadcasted her funeral, marking the first time a Canadian athlete's funeral had been televised live on two networks


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