MOUNT GREENWOOD — Firefighters generally don't require much incentive when it comes to competing against other fire departments.
These coaches are all children who are fighting cancer or have survived the deadly disease. Their job is to rally their teams in competitions such as tug of war, fire truck pull and a hot wing-eating contest.
Proceeds from the event will support the Cure It Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at beating pediatric cancer. Last year, 28 teams raised $58,000. The goal for Fire Up A Cure this year is to increase the number of competitors and top the $100,000 mark in fundraising.
Howard Ludwig says the young captains will be motivating:
Elliot McGann, 2, of West Beverly will be a first-year coach at the event, which runs from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at the university's main campus at 3700 W. 103rd St. in Mount Greenwood.
Elliot is the son of comedian Pat McGann, who hosts comedy night fundraisers for many schools and churches on the Southwest Side. His son was diagnosed with leukemia on Nov. 28.
"We are obviously concerned about Elliot and that's our focus. But as we go along in this journey, we want to help out as much as we can with other kids," McGann said Thursday.
Elliot is eight months into his 3½-year treatment plan. Sometimes the cancer drugs make him lethargic and sleepy. Other times he requires a steroid that makes him hungry and irritable. It's all part of what's been described as a particularly intense stretch of therapy, McGann said.
"What has happened is a lot of these firehouses and these families have become pretty good friends," Canner said.
Canner believes that pediatric cancer could someday become fully treatable. To achieve this, he dedicates the bulk of the money from his foundation to the Children's Oncology Group.
This global organization gathers the top doctors in the field to collaborate on successful therapies with the hope of finding a cure. He also directs about a third of the money raised to helping improve the lives of local children stricken with cancer.
One such effort is the Cure It Foundation's Filled With Hope Totes. These "survival bags" are given to newly diagnosed pediatric cancer patients and include useful items such as thermometers and pill boxes along with some fun things like gift cards for Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches.
Fire Up A Cure is actually expanding outside of Chicago this year. For the first time, a similar fundraiser pitting firefighters against each other in a series of good-natured challenges will also be held on Aug. 1 in Boston.
"The primary thing is that Chicago and Boston have some underlying similarities," Canner said.
He added that the Fire Up A Cure in Boston will likely be successful because the big-hearted firefighters there are much like firefighters here in Chicago. The public servants in both cities have routinely proven to be generous with their time and financial support, Canner said.
"We are just surrounded by a lot of people who are active," he said.
Perhaps no greater example of this in Chicago was the outpouring of well-wishes and encouragement for Emily Beazley, 12, of Mount Greenwood. She was also Canner's patient.
The bright-eyed little girl lost her four-year battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma on May 18. In her final days, the city lit up with the colors of green and purple in support of Emily. Streets were named for her, and she even received a call from pop-star Taylor Swift after locals rallied behind the cause.
A similar level of support is mirrored by participants in Fire Up A Cure. Firefighters have been known to pick up their team coaches in fire trucks and invite them to dinner at the firehouse, Canner said.
But these soft hearts also have a hard nose when it comes to competition, he said.
"These guys are so competitive. They put everything into every round. If they get to the finals, there's a lot of pride," Canner said.
McGann seemed excited for the event and hoped Elliot was feeling well enough to fully participate. But mostly the comedian was excited about the developments in treating the disease that's affecting his son.
"The doctors, I feel, are close to a cure," McGann said.
Tickets cost $5 for children, $10 for adults or $20 for a family. Besides the firefighter competition, the event also offers activities such as an inflatable fire truck slide, an obstacle course, a kids' fire pole to slide down, real fire trucks for children to explore, face painting, a photo booth, a magician and a balloon artist.
The band Bad Mouth Billy will also perform in the school parking lot, and a DJ will play music from 2-5 p.m. in the Saint Xavier's Shannon Center.
For more information and to buy tickets, visit the Fire Up A Cure website.
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