CAN Fund vital to athletes

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

One glance at the medals dangling from the necks of Canada's Beijing brigade last night showed eight bucks can go a long way.

Ten athletes representing the 18 men and women who won medals at the Summer Games gathered at the Jane Roos art gallery on Berkeley St. last night to thank those who supported the Canadian Athletes Now Fund -- a vital funding vehicle the past 11 years and one already raising cash for travel and training for Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012.

The gallery raised $35,000 last night by selling paintings and photos by athletes, including Kevin Light of the men's eight gold rowers and Team Canada women's ice hockey goalie Sami Jo Small.

Toronto businessman Kevin Reed of Equity Transfer and Trust purchased $23,000 in artwork alone.

But CAN Fund's bread and butter comes from public contributors who have raised more than $7 million since the early 1990s. There was a natural tie-in this year of giving $8 for the 08/08/08 start to the event in Beijing.

"When you think of it, eight bucks is less than a movie," said Roos, a former heptathlete, whose plans to compete in Sydney in 2000 were ended by a serious car accident. "If you watched the Games at all and were inspired when Simon Whitfield won (silver) or you cried and cheered when O Canada was played for the men's eight, then every medal is proof that the fund makes a difference."

The Beijing haul was three gold, nine silver and six bronze. Members of the men's eight, silver oarsman Adam van Koeverden, bronze hurdler Priscila Lopes-Schliep and rower Melanie Kok were among those on hand last night. Another event is scheduled for Sept. 16 and the art is on daily public display.

"The support is incredible," Kok said. "Some people say athletes don't contribute to society, but you have incredible art like this and then see how many of us become successful lawyers and doctors. We just take a token part of our lives to represent Canada on the international stage, but the values that we learn as athletes help us later on in life."

Up to $12,000 of CAN Fund money was dispersed per athlete for Beijing alone.

"It has impacted my life greatly," men's eight cox Brian Price said. "There are a lot of voids in athletes' pocketbooks. I have a wife and daughter and there are more mouths to feed at my house for sure. Having the financial stress gone takes a huge load off of me."

Among the 100 guests who bought tickets last night were some company CEOs, whom van Koeverden hoped would take a cue from the CAN Fund's philosophy.

"The great thing behind the CAN Fund is that anyone can contribute, but there really is a lot in it for (corporations) if they choose to step up," he said. "Not just to support one athlete, but a group or a team and start making a difference. There are a million ways athletes can give back. I've had a great impact on the marketing of the companies that sponsor me and their employees."


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