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Movember returns as advocate for men's health

by Mike G. Morreale

An idea started as a fun concept hatched between friends over a few drinks in an Australian beer garden has grown into a leading global organization which has changed the face of men's health in 16 years.

Get ready hockey fans, Movember is coming.

The Movember Foundation challenges men to sign up at Movember.com and grow moustaches during the month of November in an attempt to spark conversation and raise funds for men's health programs. Since its inception, the foundation has reported a total of over 4 million moustaches grown worldwide and more than $550 million raised while funding over 800 programs in 21 countries. The fundraising and awareness promotions improve the lives of men affected by prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health problems, according to Movember Foundation CEO & co-founder Adam Garone.

Movember has been warmly embraced and supported by hockey communities across North America. The campaign, bolstered by the support of the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association, had 393,348 participants and raised more than $50 million in North America last year. Movember has been an official Hockey Fights Cancer partner since 2012.

"It's been amazing," Garone said. "George Parros was one of the guys that led the charge initially when we came to North America in Los Angeles in 2007. These hockey players are just so down to earth and genuine. They usually take the approach, 'OK, I'll grow a moustache and I don't care what I look like because it's for a great cause.'

"I see that type of mentality in the athletes that play rugby and cricket in other parts of the world. Often, the worst moustache is the best one in terms of creating a conversation."

Garone, 43, still remembers the conversation between his brother, Travis, and his friend, Luke Slattery, which sparked the movement.

"They were having a beer on a Sunday afternoon, discussing fashion and how there had to be something that was no longer in fashion that could be," said Garone, who received Australia's Ernst & Young "Entrepreneur of the Year" award in 2008. "In 2003, the moustache had clearly not made a comeback but our dad had a great moustache, similar to the ones those great athletes had in the 1970s and '80s."

Travis would later send out an email, convincing his brother and several friends that the moustache could again be in vogue.

"It was just a social experience and something to do for fun that first year; an excuse to have a moustache at parties," Adam Garone said.

Garone, inspired by the breast cancer awareness initiatives each October, decided to take the moustache to a whole new level. The initial focus in 2004 was to create greater awareness of prostate cancer through the Movember Foundation. It is now the largest non-government funder of prostate cancer research in the world.

Not soon after, testicular cancer, the only other male-specific cancer, was added as a funded cause. In 2006, the four co-founders of the Movember Foundation added men's mental health.

"Men are not good at recognizing they have a mental health challenge," Garone said. "They're good at masking it with drugs, alcohol or through work, but are poor at taking action, and that often ends in the sad state of men taking their own lives."

Garone, who spent 10 years working in a corporate environment developing and marketing web and mobile technologies, and also served for nine years with the Australian Army and Special Forces, recently sat down with NHL.com to discuss all things Movember. Follow Garone on Twitter at: @adamgarone.

Q: Do you feel spending time as an army officer in Canberra, Australia, influenced you in helping head the Movember campaign?

A: "Yes. There are inherent traits in people that make them good leaders, but the training I received really coached me on how to become a great leader. The other thing it taught me was the importance of service to the country. When we got into the Movember movement, we were serving a cause in men's health, and that really fired my spirit up. There's something in me that's all about service, and I think it's important for players to have an influence to serve a cause because people watch and become inspired."

Q: What's the secret behind the perfect moustache?

A: "Confidence and attitude. In the first week, just let it grow, create a good base, pick your style early and commit to it. I remember growing a moustache during those first years and I never trimmed it, which was a mistake. Trimming throughout the month is critical. Sometimes you need to just let it grow in, but keeping it neat is another key."

Q: The Montreal Canadiens had 27 players participate in the 2013 Movember movement. How inspiring is it to see an Original Six team with so much history playing a biggest role in campaign?

A: "We've had great participation from the Canadiens the past three or four years. [George] Parros just loves the cause and he got the guys charged up when he was with the Canadiens. In 2012, Parros and [San Jose Sharks forward] Mike Brown battled in the first ever World Moustache Championship. Parros just rocks it and Brown does as well. Parros is genuinely passionate about the cause. I remember him telling me, 'I'm your foot soldier; just tell me what to do.'"

Q: The Movember Foundation had over 393,000 participants and raised $50 million last year in North America. Is that the benchmark number each year?

A: "For us it's always about participation. The funds are great because that fuels important research and support programs, but participation also drives that conversation and we use the fun of growing a moustache like a Trojan horse to kind of get men engaged in mental health."

Q: Were you excited to see the state of Minnesota finish with the best fan participation rate for the Movember campaign last year?

A: "It's wonderful to see that, particularly coming over [from Australia], doing the cause in North America, seeing those cities and states I thought the movement wouldn't take off in and then getting that spark from a player that creates such a fan base. They love it and gravitate toward it. The Movember campaign helped guys like Rick Magnuson, a Minneapolis native, get a routine checkup and find out he was in the early stages of prostate cancer. The campaign helps make us all proactive."

Q: Are there any players, past or present, who you feel will forever be remembered for their 'Mo'?

A: "I think the three that immediately come to mind are Lanny McDonald (Calgary Flames), Larry Robinson (Montreal Canadiens) and Wendel Clark (Toronto Maple Leafs). I met Wendel a few times through the Maple Leafs when he participated in the Movember campaign. He shaved and started a new one at the start of the month, presented me with a Leafs jersey and grew a good one. He's a legend in Toronto."

Q: What does the future hold for the Movember Foundation?

A: "From a program point of view we're on a path to effectively curing prostate and testicular cancer, and that's fueled in part by the funds that the whole Movember community raise. What we mean by that is the disease won't go away, but we'll live in a world where no man should die from prostate or testicular cancer. He will have better screening tests, treatment options and will understand the importance of diet and exercise. On the mental health side, it's breaking down those barriers and getting people to understand that this is a disease and we need to create an environment where men can take action and talk about it.

"I'm working on an aspect of the campaign we'll launch next year that's called Move. One of the most important things you can do for your health is staying active throughout your life, so we're going to offer an option to make a commitment to Move alongside growing a moustache. This way, the ladies will be able to make an active commitment in Movember, and the way we'll tie it back to men's health is if you've made a commitment to Move, you'd issue that challenge to the man in your life to match your Move. We'll encourage people to post a Move event and stay active, whether that's in a spin class or yoga."

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