LaFontaine Named to National Fitness Board

September 20, 2019 in News

Hockey Hall of Famer will be liaison to President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer    September 19th, 2019

WASHINGTON — Pat LaFontaine has been named to the National Fitness Foundation Board of Directors, and the Hockey Hall of Famer will serve as the board’s liaison to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” LaFontaine said Thursday at Washington’s Fort Dupont Ice Arena, where Ivanka Trump helped unveil the White House’s national youth sports strategy. “Sports and hockey have been a stepping stone to what I do today. The character-building you learn from sports, the life skills you learn from sports, is really its greatest value.”

The National Fitness Foundation is the only congressionally chartered nonprofit organization that focuses on health and fitness. It develops corporate partnerships to help expand youth sports participation in the United States and is the official charity of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition.

LaFontaine’s addition to the board and his liaison role will give hockey a presence on bodies that will help draw awareness to the importance of sports to the development and well-being of America’s youth.

“To have a figure like him, especially as a hockey fan and hockey player, is awesome,” said Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson, who attended the Fort Dupont event with teammate Tom Wilson.

LaFontaine, the League’s vice president, hockey development and community affairs, said his work on the NHL’s Declaration of Principles made him a good fit for the National Fitness Foundation’s board.

The declaration, crafted by 17 hockey stakeholders and unveiled in September 2017, advances policies, programs and initiatives to create the best possible experience for the entire hockey community. It states, in part, that all hockey programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.

“All sports, but being in the hockey family, I’m proud to be part of the hockey family for all that it stands for — the finesse of the game, the excitement of the game, the love of the game,” he said, “but more importantly, what the game gives you: the life skills, the character, the development, the values that the sport stands for.”

LaFontaine brings a wealth of knowledge to the foundation as a former player and youth hockey coach. Selected by the New York Islanders in the first round (No. 3) of the 1983 NHL Draft, LaFontaine had 1,013 points (468 goals, 545 assists) in 865 games for the Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers from 1983-84 to 1997-98.

Born in St. Louis but raised in Waterford, Michigan, LaFontaine was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

LaFontaine said he’s eager to use his position on the National Fitness Foundation board to try to reverse the decline in youth participation in team sports.

A 2017 study by the Sports & Fitness Association and the Aspen Institute found that the number of children between ages 6 and 12 who participated in team sports dropped from almost 45 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2016.

Thirty-two percent of U.S. children are overweight or obese, according to the Fitness Foundation’s website, and $117 billion is spent annually in health care costs associated with physical inactivity.

“I was concerned with some of the stats coming out with all sports where we’re losing 70 percent of all kids in all sports at [age] 13,” he said. “That become concerning to me because values start at home, but school and sports are vehicles to reinforce those values. So to have this position, to be part of the National Fitness Foundation is a tremendous honor — and also a liaison to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition — I’m excited about that role.”


Heisman Visit at Mount Sinai

December 10, 2018 in News

On Sunday, December 9th, newly-minted 2018 Heisman Trophy winner, Kyler Murray from Oklahoma University visited patients at Kravis Childrens Hospital at Mount Sinai.

He participated in a hospital-wide broadcast from the Kids Zone, made a couple of bedside visits and then visited the hospital’s Lion’s Den Room. Pediatric patients from other children’s hospitals across the Lion’s Den Network participated in a Google Hangout with the star quarterback. There were many smiles from the patients and Kyler as they asked him about his morning routine, his chances against the University of Alabama in the upcoming college football playoffs, and his favorite candy!

Murray is the second consecutive Oklahoma quarterback (Baker Mayfield in 2017) to visit the hospital on the day following the Heisman announcement. These visits go a long way to buoying the spirits of pediatric patients at both Kravis Children’s and across the Lion’s Den Network. The Heisman Trophy Trust has been partnered with Companions in Courage Foundation for a decade in providing access to college football’s top player for these very meaningful patient visits.

Santa Delights Across the Continent

December 6, 2018 in News

On December 4th and 5th, the 2018 version of Santa Connection was conducted in a dozen children’s hospitals throughout North America. More than 100 pediatric patients and their siblings got the chance for a personal visit with Santa Claus (and Pere Noel in Ottawa and Montreal!) via a live Google Hangout.

As always, this event is an emotional roller coaster replete with ample amount of laughter and tears.

The difference made by volunteers from Cisco, Google, St. Dominic High School and YouTube could best be articulated by Alexa at Cohen Children’s Hospital on Long Island, who told Santa that all she wanted for Christmas was to be able to go home with her family… Don’t we all wish that for each of these special children?

We danced with Elijah at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia when “Eesh the Elf” revealed that he was on Santa’s “Nice” list. We celebrated with Abigail at Oishei Children’s in Buffalo when it was revealed that she had her intubation tube removed that morning. We cheered on Kreek at Wolfson Children’s in Jacksonville as he celebrated his discharge day. Three-year-old Chloe at Ste. Justine in Montreal made us laugh when she brushed aside her nasal intubation to mimic Pere Noel’s “Ho! Ho! Ho!” And 11-year-old Leon brought a tear to Santa’s eye when he shared how he had created a Harry Potter Bingo game for his fellow patients at Kravis Children’s at  Mount Sinai in New York so they wouldn’t feel so alone in the hospital.

Far more patients than in any previous year accessed the Santa Connection from isolated rooms, where Child Life staff had to first don masks and gowns before conducting the session via Chromebook. This just amplified the importance of this annual program as we try and reach special children who simply cannot visit Santa in a shopping mall.

Through the generosity of Companions in Courage Foundation donor, every child received a gift card from Santa. These heartwarming visits reminded us all to be “good, for goodness sake!” For all who contributed their talents it helped put perspective on what the holidays are all about.

Nicole Oliver Records “Personal Best”

November 16, 2018 in News

By Amy Moritz, Buffalo News | Published November 10, 2018 

The joy was gone.

Nicole Oliver loved running, grew up running and was pretty competitive during her high school days at Williamsville South and in local road races.

But life happens, including being diagnosed with dystonia at age 20. The condition is a movement disorder in which muscles contract involuntarily. As she sought the treatment that worked best for her, running became a challenge both physically and mentally.

Her times got slower and her performance didn’t match what she so desired to do. Oliver lost her motivation. She started telling people she didn’t run anymore.

Finally, her husband, Nate, initiated the difficult conversation to get Nicole running again.

“Nate told me, ‘You can run. You can go out and run 10 miles if you wanted to,’’’ Oliver said. “Still, I was really struggling with enjoying running anymore. It got to be around the time where people were posting about training for the New York City Marathon and I was just really down. And t

hen I started to think Nate was right. I can still run. He told me I was throwing away a gift.”

See, Oliver might not have been up to her speed standards, but she still could go out and whip out a long run of 10 or 12 miles. She might not feel that great after it, but it wouldn’t faze her. She had a talent for running, even if that talent wasn’t about crossing the finish line before everyone else.

So yes, she could still run. She would still run. She decided to train for a marathon and settled on the Niagara Falls International Marathon in late October. But in order to keep her motivation, in order to give her perspective and rekindle the joy, Oliver needed to find a bigger reason to run. She started researching charities and settled on the Companions in Courage Foundation, founded by former Buffalo Sabre Pat LaFontaine. The charity connects hospitalized children with their family, friends and heroes, by building interactive playrooms in hospitals. Kids get to be kids, at least for a little while, during battles with illness and disease.

Oliver created a Facebook Page, Nicole Runs for A Purpose, to share her training while raising money for Companions in Courage and spreading its message. The task not only brought her joy, but helped her reconnect with her own childhood, including asking her mom to dig out the LaFontaine poster that hung in her room when she was in fourth grade.

“I was reliving my childhood and watching some YouTube videos,” Oliver said. “He was such a great hockey player. He came to my elementary school when I was 8 and that’s what really got me turned on to hockey.”

Her whole attitude toward running shifted. She found joy in running for people other than herself. It even helped her when she suffered a groin injury 12 weeks into training. She had to take time off and decided to bump down from the marathon to the half-marathon — a distance she had run many times in training but never raced. She knocked out the half-marathon and claimed her first 13.1-mile distance medal, finishing the race on Oct. 14  in 1:54:42.

“My whole perspective on running has changed,” Oliver said. “There’s this certain joy and happiness you can find from endurance training and racing where it’s not about you and not about your times. Having a goal in mind is great, but when you think about helping people less fortunate than you, it’s just I can’t put it into words. I felt like I had run the best race of my life. It certainly was not the fastest, but I crossed that finish line and felt like this has been the best race so far.

“The day before the race, I was looking at the weather and it was supposed to be cold and rainy, and Jim Johnson, the executive director of Companions in Courage, said it would be an easy day in comparison to what the pediatric patients I’d be helping were going through,” she said. “I thought about that Mile 12 and he was right about that. For every honor or trophy or medal I’ve received in high school or road racing, this was more meaningful.”