Mike Lesakowski is in a fight, and 39 other hockey players are piling on. But this is no ordinary hockey game at the HarborCenter in Buffalo, New York. The fight here is against cancer.
The goal is to raise research dollars by playing the longest match on record.
Lesakowski’s wife was 35 years old when doctors diagnosed her with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Fortunately, she survived and is now cancer-free — but several years later, in 2016, Lesakowski lost his mother to the disease.
That’s when the Buffalo native decided to use his longtime hobby to fight cancer. “Hockey was a no-brainer, I was involved with hockey all my life,” he told CNN.
His idea is simple: get sponsors, play the match, and raise funds for the hospital that cared for his wife: The Roswell Park Cancer Institute. “Basically they saved her life,” Lesakowski said.
The current record for the longest game, set by Canadians in 2015, is 250 hours, 3 minutes. That’s almost 11 days of nonstop hockey. Lesakowski’s match began on June 23, and there’s still a long way to go.
Raising the cash
Lesakowski reached out to the hospital last October and told them about his plan.
“…we told them (we were going to raise) $500,000 — I’m not sure if they believed us, quite frankly,” he said.
But he built up his team, assembling 40 players in all, including “friends and family — high school, college, pickup hockey players … that sort of thing,” Lesakowski explained.
He asked each player to raise $5,000 at first. “When he made that quota I was like ‘you’re crazy, Mike,'” Dave Jickster, one player on the team, recalled.
But the team’s hard work paid off.
“There’s one guy who raised $155,000 and a couple of guys, who work nine-to-five jobs, raised $30,000,” Jickster said.
In fact, the team was so successful that Lesakowski doubled the goal to $1,000,000. With the help of more than 3,000 donors, he reached that amount this week.
For Lesakowski and his teammates, it’s all very personal.
“My wife would have died 10 years ago,” he says. “She was saved by a clinical trial. It’s because research money went to the drug that saved her.”
The same is true for many others on the team.
Jickster lost a longtime friend and father figure to kidney cancer.
“I am playing in honor of him — he just passed away this past May.” And for the hospital, the million dollars can make a huge difference.
“Our million dollars translates to 13 to 14 million dollars as seed money to seek further grants and funding,” Lesakowski explained.
Playing the game
So, how are Lesakowski, Jickster, and the 38 other guys playing hockey nonstop for 11 days?
Mostly in shifts. Guinness World Records rules say that at any one time there must be six people per team on the ice. Each 20-man team worked out a schedule where players are in the game for four and a half hours and then off for nine. That may not sound so bad, but the rules also require them to stay on the premises for the whole attempt.
“We took four rooms, two locker rooms and two storage rooms and converted them to bunk rooms,” Lesakowki said.
And, in testament to the support of the community, the mattresses, as well as the food they are eating, and even the arena itself, are donations from local businesses.
The game is set to wrap up July 3. Lesakowski says it’s all about stamina, strength and spirit.
“If anybody wants to make a difference, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it,” he told CNN before the puck dropped.
“Having a passion, you can make something come to life.”