The annual Sports Celebrity Breakfast, which was held by the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors (CJCS) Foundation in front of a sold-out audience of more than 600 people at the Gelber Conference Centre in Cote des Neiges on April 7, marked its 15th anniversary with yet another successful morning that local sports fans of all ages won’t forget.
Over $300,000 was raised at the breakfast, which directly benefits the CJCS’ “Seniors in Crisis” program, which brings about essential needs to seniors in Montreal, so that they can sustain a comfortable quality of life, especially owing to the fact that 21% of Montreal’s senior population currently live below the poverty line, and that by 2021, that demographic will increase by an additional 22%. As well, the centre is like a home away from home for over 7,200 seniors, which helps them break the cycle of isolation and loneliness; and more 3,600 of those seniors take advantage of the centre’s many program and activities.
And those who were in attendance at the breakfast were not disappointed with the high caliber line-up of sports and media celebrities that they got the chance to meet and interact with on a more personal level. This was especially so with those celebrities who were given special honours that morning.
Georges St. Pierre (aka “GSP”), the two-division Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion and three-time winner of the Canadian Athlete of the Year award, was named as this year’s Sports Personality of the Year. In conversation with Gazette sports columnist Stu Cowan, GSP reflected on his career as a mixed martial arts champion, and what motivated him to take up the sport. “There were many things that got me into fighting. First I was bullied as a kid. Also, my father had a black belt in karate, and I wanted to be like him,” he said. “Martial arts helped me overcome my problems, and it changed me inside out. Confidence is a choice. It’s almost like ‘fake it until you make it’. You have to act like a champion before you become a champion.”
The Expos Baseball Legends Award this year went to former manager Felipe Alou, who led the team to a franchise record 691 wins during his 10 years as the team’s skipper. Alou, who was recovering from recent knee surgery, told the adoring crowd that he is confident that the movement to bring the Expos back to Montreal will be a successful one, yet he admitted he couldn’t be a manager these days, as the game of baseball is a rather complex one. “I’m a baseball player, and there is no way I could be a team manager today with having to deal with all those numbers. I’m a manager of men who still has a passion for the game.”
Veteran Gazette and Sports Illustrated columnist Michael Farber was this year’s recipient of the Larry Fredericks Media Award for his outstanding contribution to the world of sports writing. Gazette football columnist Herb Zurkowksy, who worked alongside Farber for 15 years at the paper, praised him for his sports writing mastery by reading several excerpts from a selection of his past columns. “For 15 years, I was in the presence of greatness, because no one writes a lead like Mike,” he added.
Farber accepted his award with a highly entertaining speech, in which he mentioned some of the things he learned during his 40 years as a Montreal resident: “Many of us lived on the same street … it’s called ‘Rue Barree’” and “Montreal is a happier place when the Habs are in the playoffs.”
Tony Loffreda, the Vice-Chairman of RBC Wealth Management, was recognized as this year’s Guest of Honour for his inspirational leadership skills and his extraordinary philanthropy, which has benefitted such organizations as the Montreal Heart Institute, the Kidney Foundation and the Montreal Cancer Institute. “What really counts for me is the size of your heart, and that humility is a way of thinking less of yourself,” he said during his acceptance speech.
Also, Roy Salomon, who received the breakfast’s Guest of Honour Award in 2013, was bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement award, which was given on behalf of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Also present at the CJCS Sports Celebrity Breakfast were Stephen Adekolu, Ernest Jackson and Kavis Reed from the Montreal Alouettes; Patrice Bernier from the Montreal Impact; former champion boxer Otis Grant; Alex Burrows and Michael McCarran from the Laval Rocket; NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr; Mitch Melnick and Matthew Ross from TSN 690; and Jessica Rusnak from CBC.
Feature image: honourees (left to right) Tony Loffreda, Felipe Alou and Georges St. Pierre