The Canucks Autism Network (CAN) and the West Coast Fishing Lodge helped kick off an amazing fundraising event, Fishing for Kids, Sunday morning. The fundraiser, entering its fifth year, benefits both Canucks Autism Network and BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. Each year, West Coast Fishing Lodge flies tournament participants and sponsors to Langara Island in the Queen Charlottes. Once there, they embark on an annual fishing tournament, while staying at the esteemed Clubhouse, a Lodge nestled in the mountains.
According to Jodi Simkin, Executive Director of CAN, the events have raised $1.85 million to date, and are hoping to top the $2 million mark this year.
“Everybody has a true sense of competition at these events, they really just want to help,” started a very enthusiastic Simkin. “Especially the West Coast Fishing Lodge, they’ve gone above and beyond. We also see Ledcor had no hesitation in sponsoring a miracle child. Our hearts go out to people, the children and families affected by this condition… It’s not just one day, but for the entire year.”
Also on hand was Paolo Aquilini, CAN Founder and Canucks Owner. In 1996, Paolo and his wife Clara listened in shock and disbelief as medical professionals diagnosed their son with autism. Driven by their own experience, and compelled by the growing need in the community, they searched for ways to support families living with autism. “This event is important to the people of British Columbia. It’s the kids that are important, they’re our future.” Aquilini recounted how last year was his first trip to the fishing tournament at Langara Island. “Last year I caught a 24 lbs salmon… Not very big, I believe the winner was a 32 lbs fish. Some of the highlights for me were meeting so many people, having a lot of fun out on the water. The fishing lodge is beautiful, an incredible setting in the mountains. Also, meeting some of the special families, like (CAN champion child) Ronan and his father, Richard. It’s so worthwhile,” said Aquilini, whose smile and handshake spoke to genuine excitement. “I’m ready to go!”
CAN champion child Ronan, and his father Richard, enjoyed some of the excellent food provided by local chef, David Hawksworth. Ronan granted photos between bites of his muffin, sporting a wide, melt-your-heart ear to ear grin. He also got a chance to pose with Canucks mascot Fin, who brought a big salmon teddy for young Ronan. His father, Richard, gracefully entertained photographers and writers as his son stole the show. “He was diagnosed about a year ago, and we were given a lot of help by the Ministry of Health, who turned us toward the (Canucks Autism) Network. We were amazed by the people who wanted to help. Since then, we’ve been involved in numerous events, we went to a film, and the Halloween Ghost Train ride as a family at Stanley Park.” Ronan’s eyes lit up. “And I went skating, and swimming, and I get to play soccer.” Those few moments underscored the aura pervading the event: It simply changes lives.
Larry Campbell, MC of Fishing For Kids at the Lodge, was similarly stoked. “I’m looking forward to catching some fish… To hanging out with a lot of friends. I’m looking forward to raising a lot of money.” He garnered a lot of laughs with his honest angling ability remark: “I’ll actually settle for one salmon.”
It’s been awhile since Stan “The Steamer” Smyl was a rookie, but he admitted this to be his first year at the Lodge. “I’ve been to a lot of charities and events, but this one holds a special place for me. The real heroes are the people that are here, and the families dealing with autism. It only takes one day to see how special this is. To get out there, to meet different people, it’s going to be a lot of fun. The camaraderie, the new friends that you’ll make every year, that’s what I’m looking forward to." He too drew cheers and jeers as he announced: “I’m going to show them how it’s done, show them how to fish.”
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurological condition that affects one in every 150 children in BC. Over 4500 children and youths in BC are affected by the condition, along with their families. Fittingly, during a cool, overcast Sunday morning, the sun broke through the clouds, long enough to see the fishing tournament participants and sponsors off on their journey to raise money, and hope.
By Larenzo Jensen, special to Canucks.com