"Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can." Arthur Ashe
They are the words that I will carry with me. How can you not be inspired when Matt Cullen tells you in his event closing speech, it was these words, 10 years ago, that helped launch the first Cully's Kids event. That first event? The Cullen's raised about 14,000 dollars, and they were thrilled.
Fast forward 10 incredible years, and last Friday we kicked off the 10th and final Cully's Kids Celebrity Weekend.
With 288 golfers signed up for the first day, Friday morning got off to an early start. Rick and the boys left before 6 am to ensure they arrived on time. I came just a couple of hours later.
The weather was threatening with ominous black clouds due to roll in and scattered thunderstorms were predicted throughout the day. How much golf would there be?
Matt welcoming the first round of golfers. A second round of golf would be played in the early afternoon.
While the "celebrities," are NHL hockey players, the real celebrities, are "Cully's Kids." Each one is invited to attend a special meet and greet, in between the golf rounds. This year, each kid received the coolest hockey jersey, and they couldn't wait to get them on right away.
The tent was decorated with everything a kid could ever want! Matt Cullen autographed hockey cards, candy, and a poster featuring each child from previous years.
It wasn't long and the kids started arriving.
As I went about shooting photos, I discovered a big surprise for me. The boy in the sign below- the one crinkling his nose? Is a photo I took last year. I've never seen my photos used in this way and it was such a blessing and surprise gift to me.
Rick spent the day photographing each foursome of golfers and they went home at the end of the day with a keepsake photo.
The first sighting of this boy made most of us well up with tears almost instantly. Garrett Grommesh was born with Spina Bifida, and has been in the hospital starting sometime in December, and has had only a handful of days out of the hospital. He had only been discharged two days before this event and no one was sure if he'd feel up to coming.
But in true Garrett fashion, nothing, and I mean nothing, keeps this young man from living life to the fullest whenever he can. You amaze us Garrett! As do the rest of the Grommesh family.
The Cullen's were overjoyed as they spent time catching up with Garrett.
Its clear the bond, Bridget and Matt share with the kids.
He was so joy filled and we delighted in watching him run about freely.
Matt is so engaging with the kids. They light right up when he comes to see them.
But Matt isn't the only one who brings a huge smile to these kid's faces.
The bonds show. Everyone is so happy to have this time with Matt and Bridget.
And then some more of the celebrities arrive. Zach Parise and Chris Porter are just two of many that show up to do photos and autographs with the kids.
Hockey legend Dave Christian, played on the 1980 Olympic Gold winning hockey team- also known as the "Miracle on Ice." I get goosebumps every time I think about it. I told him I remembered the game well. And he told me his favorite part is hearing what everyone was doing when they saw the game. I told him I had to watch on our 13 inch black and white tv sitting on the kitchen table. But I didn't miss it! I watched nonstop coverage of the whole series of games and its probably my most favorite hockey moment ever. Who would ever think I'd grow up one day and meet one of the players?
Lots of newspaper and tv media coverage lasted all weekend long.
With rain threatening in the distance again, we left late in the afternoon and arrived home as the rain began to pour from the sky. We were thoroughly exhausted, but another big day of events was ahead of us.
Saturday, with still more rain threatening, we kicked off the picnic. So many of our hockey families come to volunteer for this event and it feels like a family reunion for so many of us. Green shirts abound everywhere, and so many of us volunteers feel like we walk away with more than we could ever give.
Nolan was assigned to the plinko game with his buddies Nick and Jacob.
Of course, the highlight of the picnic seems to have become the dunk tank. Bridget and Matt equally share in getting dunked by lots of Cully's Kids.
Ice cream, soda and a full picnic menu is included- the food is delicious!
There was merely 15 minutes left when the rain finally burst from the clouds in a heavy downpour.
Then just as quickly, the rain disappeared and we were off to rest for a few hours before the big night ahead of us.
I have to admit, my energy was depleting quickly by this time. But I rallied, knowing this was our final Cully's Kids event.
How lucky I was to start my night off in the best possible way. This is my forever friend Kristi, who just completed a Mary Kay fundraiser for me. Here she is handing me an incredibly generous and amazing gift she worked so hard to earn. Thank you doesn't begin to cover the gratitude I feel for such a unique and successful fund raising effort she created on my behalf. Thank you to everyone who supported the event with their purchase of some Mary Kay!
I had barely arrived when I ran right into this sweet friend, Bridget. She looked stunning! I had to contain myself, as I literally would have cried if I said too much. She had a vision of what this final live and silent auction would look like, sharing it with me over lunch one day- and she far exceeded all of my expectations
This beautiful friend, Heather, truly has a generous and kind spirit that radiates out from her. She has been by my side, overseeing the radiation treatment I receive at Roger Maris. I couldn't feel more well taken care of, or blessed, to be in such compassionate, thoughtful and well- executed care!
This guy was the first item that met us at the silent auction. I wish I could have gotten all of him as his feet were adorned with hockey skates!
There were so many fabulous items up for auction.
After Rick and I made the rounds, we headed outside to the tent where the food and live auction items were on display.
It was so pretty inside! It felt like a wedding celebration. It had Southern influences everywhere in the details and was simply breath taking upon arrival.
One of the highlights of the night is discovering who has purchased the key that will open the door to the beautiful necklace inside? Amber, is it you?
Nooooo. But the woman who did win? Had been a volunteer, working from the crack of dawn, till the wee hours of the night. We were thrilled she walked away with the beautiful necklace.
Before the final items were auctioned off, Matt spoke. It had most of us in tears, with the sheer impact of his well chosen and emotion-laden words. We were puddles.
Its pretty much what I told Matt as we chatted outside, before going into the tent. I told him if I tried to talk to him, I'd cry. So I got a big hug instead- he knows. He really knows.
The last photo of my night is with another treasured friend brought back to me through her work with Cully's Kids. Wendy is a Child Life Specialist at Sanford who has been part of the process of working with Matt and Bridget on the cabin room for kids going through cancer treatment, to be built in the new hospital. Wendy and I not only went to Concordia College together, but we spent a month in Europe traveling together after college.
Whew. My legs started cramping and an ache settled into my bones as the night wore on. I had truly pushed myself to the end. I had nothing left, and was thankful that Superman half led, and half carried me out to the car at the end of the evening.
I'm still fatigued and sore. But my heart is full and my spirits are soaring.
I've spent the last few days, editing photos, writing a short story, and trying to recover from the enormity of all that transpired.
10 years after that first Cully's Kids event raised $14, 000, the 10th and final event raised a staggering $1,033, 000!
I keep going back to that quote from Arthur Ashe, "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."
Look what they did!
It makes me think of my word "become." What is it, I can do?