Wayne giving back

Wayne Gretzky keeps an eye on the game during the championship bout at the Gretzky Fantasy Camp at...

Wayne Gretzky keeps an eye on the game during the championship bout at the Gretzky Fantasy Camp at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona. SUN MEDIA/Michael Peake

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:27 AM ET

PHOENIX -- Recently, Christopher Kowie collapsed of cardiac arrest during a dog show at the Civic Centre in Brantford. A public access defibrillator, donated by the Wayne Gretzky Foundation, saved his life.

"He was having a heart attack in my home town. The doctor said that had a defibrillator not been there, he would have died. The defibrillator was there because of money raised by my foundation. Those kind of things are very rewarding," Gretzky said.

Much has changed in Gretzky's world since he made the transition from player to coach. Saving people's lives with defibrillators is one of them.

"I think the biggest thing that's changed in my life is the explosion of my foundation," he said.

"What's changed is how much I try to do and how much money I try to raise. I'm always thinking what we can do to get more money for the foundation. One of the things we're trying to do is get as many defibrillators out there as possible," Gretzky said.

It was his brother Glen who told him about the life-saving story.

"I phoned Wayne right before a game to tell him about the defibrillator in Brantford," said Glen, who is the executive director of the foundation. "Right then, four years worth of work was worth it just with that one man. He still keeps in touch with us. He's fine now.

"We bought a bunch of (the defibrillators), worth about $100,000. It works out to about $4,000 each, including the training. We put them in arenas and community centres."

Gretzky has a long history of putting his name on charitable events. But the creation of his own foundation is relatively recent.

"To be honest, the foundation was created to make my life easier in so many directions," he said of the charitable things he was involved in "helter skelter" as he put it.

"It started around the time I retired, but it's really taken off in the last three years."

While Wayne and his name raise the money, Glen and dad Walter get to experience the rewards first-hand. Like flying a plane-load of hockey equipment to Iqaluit, Nunavut.

"That went great. They went crazy. I loved it," Glen said. "People don't see the work Wayne puts in. My dad and I have the time. We get to feel like Santa Claus."

"It was incredible," Walter said. "To take everything up there was such a big thrill. They have nothing."

Gretzky remembers the first time he took on an event to raise money for charity.

"It was in 1979 sitting on the back step with my friend John Mowat," he said of his childhood pal and the tennis tournament they invented for Brantford.

"My dad and his dad took over the whole event, otherwise it would have been a complete mess," he said of raising money for the CNIB and Down Syndrome.

It's a long list of things the Wayne Gretzky Foundation has done already.

The foundation funds an after-school program for those with autism, purchases ice time, provides equipment and even paid for a national sled hockey team to go to a championship in Sweden.

"It's not just for hockey, but kids in general," Wayne said. "It all makes you feel so good about what you do."

Part of No. 99's deal with his partner Peter Jensen in the Wayne Gretzky Estates winery is that a six-figure sum be forwarded to the foundation every year.

They already did a Gretzky wine bottle signing in Los Angeles -- not part of the foundation -- which produced more than $100,000 toward building a local school playing field.

Ford and Samsung are also a big part of the foundation.

For six years now, Gretzky has run his own fantasy camp, contributing well into six figures to the foundation. For several years, Gretzky played host to a Wayne Gretzky & Friends golf day, usually involving Mike Weir and two other NHL players, such as Brett Hull and Jarome Iginla.

But coming this year is a new, massive event which is hoped will raise a half million dollars for the foundation. Gretzky is getting involved with golf in a bigger way by hosting the Nationwide Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic in Collingwood, Ont., July 10-13.

"(It) came about as a result of Wayne attending the event in Greenville, S.C., three years in a row," Gretzky's business manager Darren Blake said.

"A good friend of mine ran that tournament. We sat around last year, talking about taking the event to Canada. Wayne decided to run with it and see what we could do. It kind of grew in a hurry. We decided to make it like the AT&T Pebble Beach and the Bob Hope. We'll have 160 players and as many amateurs and celebrities -- probably 30 celebrities and 130 paying amateurs.

"We decided on $8,000 an amateur for the first year but we should have made it $9,999 like the fantasy camp. We will the next year. It'll raise a half a million for the foundation for sure.

"The celebrities will all be 'A' list. John Elway and George Brett have already confirmed. And of course we'll have a large contingent of hockey stars. All four days will be on The Golf Channel. This will be the Nationwide Tour's marquee event. They want to grow it to a very high level."

Gretzky said he didn't need his arm twisted.

"I just decided 'I've got to get one of these for Canada.' "


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