|Senators forward Jesse Winchester (right) and his younger brother, Geoff, did their part to help the record-breaking cause at Bear Hug III (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club photo).
Leave it to a guy with a university degree to put the magnitude of the moment into proper perspective.
"How overwhelming is that?" Senators forward Jesse Winchester
said in pondering the efforts of more than 16,000 excited Ottawa high school students ringing the historic Rideau Canal in a group hug that stretched further than the eye could see.
"That's how many people we get at our games ... that's the amount of people hugging (here). It's pretty remarkable and really special."
The occasion was Bear Hug III, a fund-raising partnership between the Sens Foundation, the Ottawa Catholic School Board and presenting sponsor Napoli's Cafe. Students from 15 local high schools gathered to take aim at setting a new Guinness World Record for the largest hug, while helping to benefit Foundation local charities, including Roger's House, the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and the Ottawa Hospital Foundation.
"Just to be involved in an event that’s going to raise as much as it will and have 16,000 students coming together in the nation’s capital around this historic waterway to break a Guinness world record is just incredible," said Sens Foundation president Danielle Robinson. "(The charities) are all very good friends of ours. We got involved to get some sponsorship dollars in place so we could really maximize the amount of money going back to these four charities."
Senators forward Nick Foligno
has played a key role in spearheading the drive as the event's honorary captain. But when Team USA offered him the opportunity to represent his homeland at the 2010 IIHF World Hockey Championship, Foligno turned to his good buddy and road roommate to take the torch on the big day.
"Any time you can get involved in any way in the community, it’s great. But on this scale … I’m pretty excited and I jumped at the opportunity to get involved. It’s for a great cause and I think everybody knows someone who has been touched by and felt the loss from cancer. It’s something I definitely would not hesitate to get involved in." - Jesse Winchester
"We’re pretty close, so he had no qualms about calling me up," said Winchester, a native of nearby Long Sault, Ont. "He knew I’d say yes because he’d say yes if I asked him. It’s one of those things where it is such a special day and I don’t think too many people could turn down the chance to get involved in something like this.
"Any time you can get involved in any way in the community, it’s great. But on this scale … I’m pretty excited and I jumped at the opportunity to get involved. It’s for a great cause and I think everybody knows someone who has been touched by and felt the loss from cancer. It’s something I definitely would not hesitate to get involved in."
The cause was particularly special for Foligno, whose mother, Janis, lost a lengthy battle with breast cancer last summer. His Senators teammates have been amazed by the graceful way the Buffalo native has handled such a devastating loss.
"I can only imagine what he went through last summer and in the year leading up to it, and he handled it so well," said Winchester. "He’s a class act and to see what he’s done throughout the whole year, raising awareness about a cause as worthy as this, is pretty remarkable.
"He's put a lot of time into cancer (work), raising awareness and money. Once he found out he was unable to make it today, he was pretty upset but he was also happy to be playing (at the worlds). He turned to me and I was more than willing to step in and take his place."
The participation of Foligno and the Sens Foundation both provided a great assist to the cause, said Julian Hanson, the deputy director of education for the Ottawa Catholic School Board.
|Sens Foundation president Danielle Robinson and Spartacat were on hand on the Corkstown pedestrian bridge over the Rideau Canal for Bear Hug III (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club). |
"This is the third Bear Hug and the first two were very, very successful," said Hanson. "But the logistics behind organizing 16,000 students and raising sponsorship money to help the event ... the organizing committee realized it needed someone with that expertise to come to the table and that’s what the Sens Foundation has done and has really been an integral part of this year’s event.
"Having the hockey players like Nick Foligno
involved ... that does a lot for the students. They've been a great help."
The biggest evidence of the scope of the event — the sea of buses that ran along both sides of the canal, with horns that honked in unison when the massive group hug was completed. With the volume of students involved, Bear Hug organizers needed to borrow some off-duty city buses to complete the task.
"It's an amazing undertaking," said Robinson. "The logistics involved with busing 15,000 kids down (to the canal) takes a lot of support from the Ottawa Police, the city of Ottawa, all the charitable partners and the (school) principals. It really is quite incredible."
Added Hanlon: "The big issue was the busing. As you can see, there's OC Transpo involved and all of the local school bus companies. But there's a cost involved with that and that's where the Sens Foundation, with the sponsorship it brought to the table, was able to offset that cost to a large extent."
Aerial footage shot from a helicopter will be sent to Guinness to determine whether a new world record was indeed set. The current mark, set in 2004, is held by the city of Alba Iulia, Translyvania, with nearly 10,000 participants.