Friday, September 9, 2011

NHL Alumni Interview with Steve Webb

On September 19th, 2011, NHL Alumni members Steve Webb and Pat LaFontaine will depart from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto for an epic journey that will see them bike 550 miles in 48 hours to raise money for two worthy charities. Leaving Toronto at approximately 11 am on the 19th, the former Islanders hope to arrive at the NHL Store in New York City two days later.

This is the third time that Webb has taken on the challenge of biking for charity and the first time that Hall of Famer and fellow New York Islanders Alumni member Pat LaFontaine will join him. The charities that will benefit from their extraordinary efforts are Webb’s W20 Foundation and LaFontaine’s Companions In Courage. The W20 Foundation encourages young athletes to learn about being socially responsible and take on active roles in their communities, while the Companions In Courage assists in building interactive playrooms in hospitals, as well as raising much-needed funds for Alzheimer’s and Dementia research.

In the first year of the charity bike ride, Webb led the way from his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario to Long Island, New York. Whereas, in year two, his team rode the opposite direction - from Long Island to Peterborough. By reducing the number of days for this year’s ride from eight and nine (in previous years) to two, he will have to rely on the same focus, determination and inner-strength that brought him from Peterborough to the National Hockey League.

“There are a lot of mind games when you are riding down the road and the wind picks up or the rain kicks in,” Webb said on the phone from his home in Long Island. “You are into your eighth, ninth, tenth hour out on the road and your mind does take over. I think the stronger you are mentally and the better the game plan you have, the more focused you can become to execute that game plan.”

“Initially, when you look at a map and you are thinking about your bike ride, most bikers go West to East, keeping their backs to the jet steam. From Buffalo to Albany is a big stretch of that West to East ride. I decided to go against that last year and we had four straight days of wind in the face, we also had rain and some snow. The conditions were brutal and I felt bad for the guys that had joined me because I made the decision to go that way. Had we gone the opposite direction it would have been smooth sailing, we would still be wet but it would have been quick.”

Attempting a 550 mile journey in 48 hours is certainly not an easy task; Webb and LaFontaine will be relying heavily on the support team they have assembled to assist them. As Webb explained in our conversation, “The support team is huge for us - we are not your typical long distance riders.”

Since it is year three for the charity bike ride and he has an idea of what to expect while out on the road, I asked Steve how much training goes into preparing for a trip of this magnitude?

“I should be doing a lot more, let’s put it that way,” he said with a laugh. “I just try to get out there and get some miles in. The thing about Long Island is that we don’t really have a ton of monster hills and that is one thing that is tough to train for mentally - the hills. I remember going out for a ride two years ago with Mike Komisarek and I was trying to take him to all the biggest hills that I could find. He was hammering up them and couldn’t get his heart rate up because he was in such good condition. He was just flying up these hills, while I was crawling up them!”

With Hall of Famer LaFontaine taking part in the ride for the first time, I also had to ask Steve - Does Pat know what he has gotten himself into?

“It’s a trade off,” Steve answered. “I helped him coach his U16 team this year for eight months and he gives me three days of his time for the ride. The problem is though, that my three days are a little more extreme than his eight months. I think it’s a good trade-off!”

Webb is incredibly tech savvy and uses Twitter, Facebook, blogs and his websites to help share his message of social responsibility and community involvement. During the 550 mile trip, friends and hockey fans can help Steve and Pat’s foundations by making donations online (the information to make a donation at their websites is listed below) and for the first time, supporters will be able to follow the ride online and send messages of encouragement.

“I have been testing out this new app that actually tracks where I am,” Steve explained. “You can see exactly where I am on my ride and if you wake up at 2am and send me a tweet (@SteveWebb20) or a Facebook message, it will stop the music I am listening to and read the message or the tweet to me and tell me who it is from. For motivational purposes, it’s awesome!”

“To have people be able to chime in and send along their encouragement during this 48 hour period is great. We are definitely going to need some assistance and that extra motivation. When it is four in the morning and you are biking in the dark and thinking ‘what have I gotten myself into’, it is nice to have that inspiration. It’s a cool way for people to interact with the ride.”

While a tremendous amount of money is raised each year by numerous charitable golf tournaments, to be noticed and offer a little variety, sometimes you have to think outside the box. Here in Ottawa for example, the city that I call home, Ottawa Senators defenseman Matt Carkner held a car rally and scavenger hunt this summer to raise money for a hospital in his hometown of Winchester, Ontario. The small town of 3,000 people raised over $50,000 for the hospital. With the 48-hour bike ride, Webb has certainly found an innovative way to engage hockey fans and help raise money and awareness about the W20 Foundation.

“You are always trying to do something different because there are a lot of golf tournaments out there,” said Webb. “On Long Island, we have some great alumni guys here that have their own tournaments and there are the other NHL teams within forty or fifty miles that have similar events too. The hockey fans in the New York area have a pretty good choice of golf outings and there are a lot of the same people coming out to support the events. You want to be a little creative by doing something different - that’s how we came up with the bike ride.”

“It takes some time for people to understand what you are doing; to see that you are actually executing what you say you are going to do. Then they start believing in you and believing in the mission. This year we have ramped things up dramatically - we have a lot of people saying we are crazy! Even really avid bikers are saying we are crazy, but Pat and I really believe that we have assembled the right group of people and the right team to help us be successful.”

“Every year we try to raise our standards, grow the event and broaden the amount of attention it gets. Teaming up with Pat will bring a lot of awareness to the ride and the foundations. We don’t really have a set number for a fundraising goal, we would love to raise a good amount of money for our causes, but we know there are a lot of things going on in the world - we understand that. We just want to make sure we can do the best we can for the people we are trying to help.”

Inspired by others throughout his junior and professional career, Webb discovered the importance of being active in the communities he called home and hopes to inspire others in the same way. He is grateful for the support he has received, as well as the support that continues to help him achieve his goals in life. Using all that he has learned from being involved in athletics his entire life, he is leading by example, hoping to inspire others and get them involved in their communities.

“My message is to always be responsible for your choices and actions,” Webb said. “Be surrounded by the right people that will help you become a better person, a better player and a better athlete in general so that you can have long term success. One of the things that we really try to foster in young athletes is that belief in yourself - having goals and focusing on what you can achieve.”

“The W20 Foundation initially came about by supporting some local athletes that had an opportunity to go on to post-secondary education and needed some financial support in order to make their dreams come true. We were able to sustain that for a few years but I think that over time, we were able to see that was a very microcosmic focus. We wanted to branch out and start to look around for ways to use technology to really foster how to give back to your community.”

“We have started a project called Team Up 4 Community and what we are doing is building a website where people can actually post what their team has done in the community. We want to show that by being in athletics, it gives you great principals and really good ties to your community. I hope that other organizations will see what people are up to and that will inspire them to ask themselves, how can we give back to the community? What can we do to make a difference?”

Athletes at all levels, whether they are professional or amateur, are donating their time and energy every day to help make a difference. Whether it is visiting schools, visiting hospitals or helping to raise funds for charities, spending a few hours or taking an entire day to get involved and help their local community can make a tremendous difference. It not only a benefit to those that receive the assistance, it also benefits the young athletes themselves.

“You always want to take the time to recognize the community that you actually play in as a young athlete and give back. There are people working hard to make sure that everything is prepared and ready for the athletes to get the best experience from youth sports as possible, by getting the fields ready, by being at the rinks and so forth. The taxpayers that are paying for it may not have kids involved in sport or they may be older and their kids are done playing sports. The idea is for the kids and the families that are utilizing the facilities to take some time and gets hands on; engage themselves in helping the community.”

“We don’t see a lot of these things at the forefront in the news or on the radio, but we want to show these athletes as examples of how important it is to do something great for someone else. For kids to grow up and understand that part of being an athlete is doing something great for your community, then that is a great message to hear!”

Leading by example, having focus and determination, helping others and being involved in your community - these are tremendously inspiring messages for anyone to hear, whether you are young athlete or not.

To make a donation or learn more about Steve’s W20 Foundation and Pat’s Companions In Courage Foundation, please visit their websites.

The W20 Foundation: www.w20foundation.org
Companions In Courage: www.cic16.org
Follow Steve on Twitter: @SteveWebb20

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