Monday, July 16, 2012

Jack, Main Street and The Voice of Sport

On May 29th, my friend and the founder of Main Street, Jack Burger, lost his battle with cancer. A great leader in the English communities in the Laurentians and a supporter of my writing career from the beginning, this is my column from the July edition of Main Street.
Jack, Main Street and The Voice of Sport

It is with a heavy heart that I write this month’s Main Street column, but as the news of Jack’s passing reached me in Ottawa, I knew that this article would be an opportunity to celebrate a friend and share the story of Jack, Main Street and The Voice of Sport.

Hard to believe, but this column marks my fourth anniversary as a member of the Main Street team, and although I live outside of the Laurentians, writing for and reading our newspaper keeps me connected to my Lachute roots. (Continuing to help my dad in the hay fields every summer is also good reminder I am a fifth generation farmer from Lachute, but writing is certainly an easier reminder!)

I first met Jack many years ago, it may have been during the Perspective days, but it was just over four years ago with a phone call that our story really begins. After 12 years of living in various parts of Canada and working as a musician, a lengthy illness forced a career change. Trapped at home with a healthy mind but unhealthy body, I rediscovered my love of sports. In May of 2008, a good friend from my music days, phoned to tell me he had created a website for me - The Voice of Sport. All of a sudden, I was a sports columnist...

To fulfill my goal of being a real columnist and to bring some legitimacy to my website, I felt I needed to be part of a newspaper as well. My dad suggested I call Jack Burger and Main Street. I prepared my sales pitch and had every answer ready (for any possible question) as to why this rookie writer deserved a shot. Our first conversation lasted close to an hour as I shared my story and we talked sports. As I prepared to ask Jack, “do I make the cut”, he said I had actually saved him a considerable amount of bother. He wanted to add a sports writer anyways and since I called out of the blue, it saved him the time of having to find someone himself - I would find out later he was eager to have me on board. I told Jack I wanted to bring something different to Main Street and I believe he said, “Send it on time within the proper word count and we’ll get along just fine.”

One of the first interviews I set up was with Chris Nowinski - one of the world’s leading voices on raising awareness about the issue of concussions in sport and the founder of the Sports Legacy Institute. During our interview, Chris asked if he could put me on hold. “Sure, no problem,” I said with a shaky voice. When he came back on the line, he said it was the New York Times calling and he told them he would call back as he was doing an interview with Main Street. A New York Times reporter was told to call back because of Main Street - that’s the power of our community newspaper!

In our first conversation, I also confidently told Jack I was going to interview Kevin Lowe. The Rodger and Lowe families have been connected over the years through our farm and Lowe’s Dairy, but I had never met Kevin and I wasn’t sure how I was going to actually make it happen. I rather naively sent an email to the Edmonton Oilers through their website. I’m not sure how many people read that email and kept forwarding it along, but three months later an email arrived in my inbox from Kevin Lowe - he would love to speak with Main Street. I immediately sent an email to Jack and Sue to let them know we had the Lowe interview. Kevin even became our correspondent during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, offering to call me and chat about the Games for Main Street.

My connection to Kevin led to meeting one of his former teammates, Mark Napier, the Executive Director of the NHL Alumni Association. We would also end up chatting for a Main Street article and two years ago, I became the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association. I am often asked how I became a writer and I start by saying, “Well, it’s a long story”, but the story always starts with Jack, Main Street and The Voice of Sport.

Have a great sports day Jack!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

NHL Alumni Interview With Serge Payer

"Overcoming obstacles - it is a theme in many of our NHL Alumni articles. Some of our members were cut by their Junior team, while others had to pay their dues in the minors for several seasons or overcome serious injuries in pursuit of their NHL dream. The path to the world’s greatest league is unique and varied, but there is only one way to describe the story of NHL Alumni member Serge Payer’s journey to the NHL, and that is remarkable.

At 19-years old, Serge was a member of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, healthy and in top athletic form as he made his way to the NHL. Like every young man with NHL aspirations, the last obstacle he expected to be placed in his way was a potentially life-threatening illness called Guillain-BarrĂ© Syndrome."

Read my interview with Serge Payer at the NHL Alumni website.