In 2014, while both still in high school, Thomas Canale and Miriam Hanjra approached Parkinson Society British Columbia with an idea for a new fundraiser: Pull for Parkinson’s. This annual Ultimate Frisbee tournament brings together students across high schools in Surrey to raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s disease (PD). Both Thomas and Miriam have a connection to the disease, which motivated them to help get more youth involved in supporting a cause they may not know much about otherwise.
Thomas’ father, Franco Canale, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s nearly 20 years ago and was a major inspiration for the tournament. Miriam also had a personal connection through her grandfather, Bashir. They both watched as Parkinson’s disease changed the course of their loved one’s life, and knew they wanted to support others living through similar experiences.
Pull for Parkinson's 2015
In 2014 they raised $2,300 but by 2018, that number had gone up to almost $5,300. Over the years, the tournament has brought in a total of $13,000. Though Thomas and Miriam have now left the Lower Mainland in pursuit of their careers, Pull for Parkinson’s continues on with a new organizer, Chris Wakelin. Chris is a teacher at Queen Elizabeth Secondary School in Surrey, and a huge part of the Ultimate community. He has been involved in establishing the Fraser Valley Junior Ultimate League, coaching several high school teams, and even coaching provincial teams.
Below, Thomas and Miriam share their fundraising journey, and how Pull for Parkinson’s has grown to where it is today.
1. Can you describe your connection to Parkinson Society BC and Parkinson’s disease?
Thomas and I both have personal connections with Parkinson's disease. His father was diagnosed in 2001, and my grandfather also had Parkinson's disease throughout my early childhood.
2. How did you get the inspiration to host the Pull for Parkinson’s tournament?
Having both played on our high school Ultimate Frisbee teams, we not only enjoyed the sport, but also the sense of community it generated. Tournaments were always a highlight, but one that we both really appreciated was Hucking for Hearts, which supported The Heart and Stroke Foundation, and was organized by Mo Ngyuyen while she was a student. In our last few years of high school, Hucking for Hearts came to an end as Mo graduated and pursued work in other areas. Afterwards, it consistently felt like there was something missing in the Ultimate community because this tournament fostered sportsmanship, community, and connection with other players in an environment that wasn't purely competitive. Thomas and I both felt that having a tournament similar to Hucking for Hearts was necessary, and we agreed that Parkinson's disease required more awareness, so we put two and two together!
3. What has been the most rewarding part of putting on the tournament?
There have been many rewarding aspects to this tournament. We both value the community that Ultimate generates, and having both played in high school and coached teams after graduating, it has been a pleasure to stay in contact with that community in a different role as tournament directors. We see a lot of familiar faces, and appreciate the success of the sport in the Lower Mainland while it still maintains its spirit. Additionally, having this community become more aware of Parkinson's disease, while raising money for the Society, has been phenomenal. We've connected with players, parents, and coaches who also have been exposed to Parkinson's in one way or another, which shows that not only is the disease more prevalent than people may know, but that there is a supportive community there for those who have the disease, and those affected by the disease by association.
4. The tournament has grown so much since its inception. How did you find such success? Any advice for others looking to grow their own annual fundraisers?
Having a supportive community that is excited to participate, volunteer, and just help out in any way has been integral to its success. Every year, we've been able to grow, add more teams, and reach out to more volunteers, and it's because of the people who are involved. We never compromise the quality of the tournament to accommodate a greater quantity, and I think that's also key. Growing each year instead of starting off with huge goals and aspirations has allowed us to continue successfully; and getting feedback at the end of the year from everyone involved has enabled us to adjust the tournament year after year to ensure it runs smoothly.
5. Why do you think it is important to engage youth in fundraising and charity?
It's easy to go through life day-to-day with a very narrow focus of what is going on in our personal lives. Widening this focus to involve fundraising, charity, and community is integral to overall wellness. Starting early in our youth was a great way to ensure this outlook was maintained. Youth are capable of so much, they learn so fast, and are eager to engage in the issues of the world, and enact change. Fostering this early on is both a pleasure and responsibility, and I hope that some individuals who have attended Pull for Parkinson’s will continue to participate in events that mix their interests and contribute to a good cause.
6. What do you wish more people knew about Parkinson’s disease?
Personally, we think increasing overall awareness is necessary - having a general understanding of Parkinson's, how prevalent it really is, and the symptoms that people may experience can decrease any stigma that may be felt by individuals with Parkinson's disease.
7. Do you have a message for anyone else looking to fundraise for Parkinson’s support services?
Do it! Even if it's an idea for a smaller event, start out, and see where it takes you. Any amount fundraised is appreciated. Additionally, starting off small and building from there is a great way to figure out what you need to do to make the event successful, and to troubleshoot problems you may not have thought of originally.