Honouring the resilience of family at the Nexicom James Fund Golf Classic

Annual tournament on June 2 offers inspiration to participants

Georgia Whyte, a neuroblastoma survivor, with her uncle Shawn are regular faces at The Nexicom James Fund Golf Classic, which honours the families who are living with neuroblastoma and raises money to help them through hardship (photo: Nicole Zinn, Glimpse Imaging)
Georgia Whyte, a neuroblastoma survivor, with her uncle Shawn are regular faces at The Nexicom James Fund Golf Classic, which honours the families who are living with neuroblastoma and raises money to help them through hardship (photo: Nicole Zinn, Glimpse Imaging)

The Nexicom James Fund Golf Classic is one of those rare charitable events that connects with deep emotion and allows people to dig into the reserves of affection we hold so close for family.

There are countless wonderful causes worthy of community support but the Peterborough golf tournament that honours the tenacious courage and eerie wisdom of James Birrell (who died at the age of eight in 2001 after struggling against neuroblastoma) is counted as one of the finest.

This is partly because the tournament honours a remarkable boy who left this life far too early, and partly because it pays homage to the family that carries on his memory and legacy — and the countless other families that are living and dying with the disease every day.

For Peter Blodgett, the president of Peterborough’s Darling Insurance, the strength of neuroblastoma families resonates deeply when he considers why he’s been a supporter of the tournament since its inception. He looks back many years ago to the loss of his newborn sister when he was just a boy, and recalls the effect her death had on his family.

“I guess whenever I hear or see a situation that involves helping children, it tends to tug at my heart just a little more,” he says.

Yes, there are many great causes, but knowing that virtually every dollar the Golf Classic raises is used to support families — either through the annual James Fund Family Retreat or through funds for mounting bills families inevitably face while seeking treatment — is a key incentive for Peter’s ongoing support.

After his first experience at the tournament, he remembers thinking that the organizers and those in attendance had accomplished something extremely positive that would make a real difference in the lives of people who certainly need a boost of support.

“Everything they’ve done has been a positive step for these kids that need help and their families,” Peter says. “When you can help somebody, that’s the greatest gift you can give.”

“There’s no downside to supporting it,” he adds. “It’s one of the few causes that I think significantly shows you upside.”

Knowing that the Birrell family has given selflessly of themselves to the local community, and to people around the world, is a strong reason to stand with them in their quest to help others manage the struggle they once faced with grace.

Michelle Ferreri says The James Fund is deeply important in her life because of the great respect she has for the Birrells and the ease with which she can picture her family facing such challenges. As an instantly recognizable journalist with CHEX Television, she is regularly asked to put her name behind local causes, yet rarely does so. This year will mark her fourth year as the Nexicom James Fund Golf Classic master of ceremonies, however, and she’s proud to be part of the event.

“It’s near and dear to my heart,” she says. “I’m a mom of three and when I first came into contact with the Birrells, James was the same age as my middle son. I see a lot of myself in their family; I see the genuine aspect of who they are as a family.”

And she knows that people around the world and here at home find comfort in the realization that, because of The James Fund and because of this golf tournament, they are not alone as they look to beat this deadly childhood cancer. The significance of this one boy’s life continues to permeate the dark world of what was once a virtually unknown cancer and inspires hope.

“James has had an impact on my life that very few people have had, and I didn’t even know him,” Ferreri says. When life gets difficult or stress is threatening to mount, she remembers James.

“I think of his motto,” she says. “‘You gotta’ use each day.'”

This year, June 2 marks the day used in James’s name to bring the community together in support of families who wake each day to face the uncertainty of neuroblastoma. Golfers, sponsors, and those who love a good banquet dinner and auction will descend upon the Kawartha Golf and Country Club for the 7th Annual Nexicom James Fund Golf Classic. Chances are that in the evening, when they arrive home, they’ll have a quiet minute to reflect and they’ll hug their family a little tighter than usual.

I know I always do.

This is the first of two articles by Kristian Partington on the Nexicom James Fund Golf Classic. Read the second.

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