10/22/12 12:00 AM
(October 21, 2012)… On the back of the dinner program last night, among the sponsor logos and photos, was a quote from Glenn Styres, which has become the mantra of the self-made sprint car driver, entrepreneur and humanitarian. It read, “Bigger than I imaged, but was big as I dreamed. Welcome to my playground.”
The saying, which refers to his successful racing career, was also very appropriate for the Ninth Annual Dinner of Champions to benefit the Canadian Diabetes Association. The event, sponsored by Ohsweken Speedway, was hosted by Glenn Styres, Rochester Knighthawks Owner and General Manager Curt Styres, and their mother, Vera. The generous family from Six Nations welcomed 500 guests to the gala Thursday night at Carmen’s Banquet Center in Hamilton, Ontario.
“I never dreamed of doing anything like this. It’s really incredible to be a part of something this big,” said Glenn Styres. “I asked my mom tonight why she steered us in this direction. She said she lost her parents to diabetes and a lot of friends and relatives, and wants to find a cure.”
With sports as a major theme of the evening guests had opportunities to see stock cars, dirt track cars and a motorcycle in the main ballroom. The auction also tantalized sports fans, as game-worn jerseys, signed footballs and baseball bats, as well as fishing and golf trips were among the featured items. In addition, there were nearly 50 athletes in attendance.
The Dinner of Champions was founded by Bill Gregory, who has dedicated the past 16 years to fighting diabetes after he learned his 18-month-old grandson, Lucas, had Type 1 diabetes. Ohsweken Speedway has served as the title sponsor for the event for the past two years, and has inherited a dinner that has raised over $300,000 in the fight against diabetes.
“They put me on solid ground and built this dinner to be the biggest, most successful event within one year,” said Gregory, who is now a Development Officer for the Canadian Diabetes Association. “This event is not only to recognize the big stars, but also to give honor to athletes in our community that have put us on the map. We want to be proud to say this is our community, but also to bring in stars to walk with us and fight diabetes.”
The Canadian Diabetes Association lists diabetes as a “chronic, often debilitating and sometimes fatal disease in which the body either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. This leads to high levels of glucose in the blood, which can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. The body needs insulin to use glucose as an energy source.” The disease has reached pandemic proportions affecting over nine million Canadians. In the United States, 25.8 million have diabetes and another 79 million have pre-diabetes.
Mike Swartz of the Canadian Diabetes Association read some staggering statistics to the dinner guests. Today, 1 in 4 Canadians lives with diabetes, undiagnosed diabetes, or pre-diabetes. By 2020, that could increase to 1 in 3 Canadians living with diabetes. By 2020, it is expected that nearly 11 per cent of the population will be living with diabetes.
“Events like this are incredibly important. One of the things that happened earlier in the evening is one of our speakers said, ‘Can you put up your hand if you are a diabetic or know someone who has diabetes. Almost the entire room put up their hand,’” said Crystal Mitchell of the Canadian Diabetes Association’s major gift team. “It is a disease that affects everyone and touches everyone in some way...it is the personal stories that are really compelling.”
Paralympian Summer Mortimer was one of those people with an emotional story. The Keynote Speaker at the Ohsweken Speedway Dinner of Champions does not have diabetes, but described in detail her struggles to become a champion. Mortimer gave an inspiring speech about her near fatal injury, and her recovery and return to the pool. She retold her story when she shattered both of her feet in 2008, a bounce off a trampoline that almost ended her life. Mortimer was focused on the landing area in the sponge pit, but fell short and landed on a concrete pad nearby. The accident shattered nearly every bone in her feet. The Newmarket, Ontario native was in a wheelchair for almost 18 months.
But determined as ever, the girl who started swimming at age 2, learned how to walk and swim again. She won four medals for Canada at the 2010 IPC Swimming World Champions and four more at the 2012 Paralympics. She showed off her eight medals at the dinner, which included two Paralympic gold, one silver and one bronze from London. The 19-year-old Mortimer shared her story, but was also able to draw a connection with those suffering from diabetes.
“It was a very humbling experience. I met a couple of people that changed my perspective post-accident,” said Mortimer about meeting folks with diabetes. “I realized that diabetes is exactly the same as being a Paralympic athlete because there are so many obstacles they have to overcome each day to just be able to live. Too many people have the disease. I was honored to be a part of it and be able to share my story.”
Mortimer, Melissa Tancredi and Hilda Binns were the headliners for the Dinner of Champions. Tancredi played soccer for Team Canada and recently won the bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Binns was a Paralympian who won her first of 24 medals for Canada in 1968. The woman known as the “Golden Girl” won 58 medals in her athletic career. The list of sports figures at the Dinner of Champions also included former National Hockey League stars Curtis Joseph, Lou Franceschetti, Vic Hadfield, Jim McKenny and Pat Hickey. Canadian Football League star Dave Stala, Canadian Snooker player Cliff Thorburn and all four division winners from Ohsweken Speedway were also featured.
The lacrosse world was also prominent at the event with Curt Styres, owner of the National Lacrosse League Rochester Knighthawks and the Major League Lacrosse Hamilton Nationals. The Champion’s Cup, won by the Knighthawks in 2012, was prominently displayed at Table No. 1 next to Styres and Mortimer. The roster of NLL stars was led by Cody Jamieson, Mike Accursi, Andy Secore, Matt Vinc and Jordan Hall of the Rochester Knighthawks, along with Hamilton Nationals star Brodie Merrill, who also plays for the NLL Philadelphia Wings. Accursi and Secore, who was born in Hamilton, are veterans of the dinner. Accursi, a 15-year NLL pro, explained the importance of the dinner.
“It’s a great fundraiser for the Canadian Diabetes Association. They work really hard at putting money toward research to find a cure for diabetes,” he said. “Being involved in the lacrosse community, and with the prevalence of diabetes in the native community, I thought it was something I should hang my hat on and continue to support. Last year, Ohsweken Speedway came onboard as a major sponsor and it’s nice to see the partnership with the Six Nations Reserve. Curt, Glenn and their mom do a lot for the community. It’s a great event to be a part of.”
In addition to the Knighthawks players, Garrett Billings of the Hamilton Nationals and Toronto Rock, Shawn Evans of the Calgary Roughnecks, and Rochester Strength and Conditioning Coach Matt Green were present at the Dinner of Champions.
Evans, Jamieson and Hall were a hit at the live auction as they brought in one of the highest winning bids. The trio, each auctioning off one of their game-worn jerseys, garnered $3,100. A signed Curtis Joseph Toronto Maple Leafs jersey also raised $1,400. At press time, the amount raised was still being tabulated. The Canadian Diabetes Association will use the money for education and services, advocacy, research, and putting research into practical application.
With a record 50 tables and 500 guests, Glenn Styres smiled when asked how he would make the 2013 Dinner of Champions bigger and better. Before giving his answer, the humble Styres thanked dinner founder Bill Gregory for his selfless effort in combating the disease and building the foundation for the event.
“Bill is the guy that knows all of these people. He has been doing this for 17 years (fighting diabetes),” he said. “I am going to try to follow in his footsteps. My goal is to try to get Tony Stewart next year. It would be a great deal to get him to this event.”