Jr. Kings making a difference through Tour de Pier involvement

By Pete Waggoner
Let’s Play Hockey

Eleven-year-old Calvin Vachon and his Los Angeles Jr. Kings’ team have experienced a lot of success on the ice, including winning the California State Championship and being ranked 15th in the nation. Calvin is the grandson of NHL Hall of Famer Rogie Vachon, and like his grandfather, is a goaltender. However, it’s off the ice that the Jr. Kings have experienced their greatest success, led by Calvin.

On Feb. 6, 2016, Calvin lost his grandmother to an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma and he was devastated by the loss. After talking to a few of his buddies on his team, Calvin learned that a teammate lost his grandmother to pancreatic cancer and another lost his grandpa to cancer as well. They decided as a team to get involved with the Tour de Pier in the Los Angeles area to raise money to fight cancer as the Jr. Kings Fights Cancer group last year.

“It felt really good fighting cancer with my team and I didn’t realize so many people went down the same road as I did,” Calvin said.

With 35 members, Calvin led his team to victory by raising more than $15,000 for the Tour de Pier in 2016. From Calvin’s point of view, last year was just a starting point for his team. They have set a goal to double their fundraising efforts to $30,000 this year when the 5th Annual Tour de Pier fundraiser is held on May 21 at Manhattan Beach.

The event is a stationary cycling fundraiser that features 350 bikes. It takes one of the hottest indoor fitness activities and brings it outside to a large entertainment environment on the beach. The event includes live music and celebrities participating, including KISS member Paul Stanley, athletes and Olympians.

Prior to the Jr. Kings’ involvement with the Tour de Pier, Calvin landed a hockey commercial with Honda right around the time his grandmother had her illness and passed away. Checks began to come in for Calvin’s work, and his parents, Nick and Renee, wanted to see their son keep some of his money and put some away for school.

“We told him he could keep some of the money and put some away for school and then he had to give back and do something with it,” Nick said. “He chose to give a good portion of what he made from this commercial to the Uncle Kory Foundation (a charity to raise awareness and funds to support brain cancer research).”

Certainly, that was a mature decision for such a young person and it made his parents proud.

“For us as parents, we were proud and it was without even asking, it was unprovoked,” Nick said.

Calvin has a firm example from Renee, the executive director of the Uncle Kory Foundation (UKF) and someone who plays a big part in organizing the event. Calvin was able to link his grandmother’s battle with cancer to the work his mother did with UKF. The Tour de Pier became a reality and began to take shape after Calvin rallied his team to action.

“My biggest inspiration is PK Subban because he does so much,” Calvin said. He once donated $10 million to a children’s hospital in Montreal and he is an all-around great guy.”

The team effort extended not only to Calvin’s Jr. Kings’ team but to the entire organization. It required fundraising efforts and plenty of marketing at Jr. Kings’ events and a joint effort at the Staples Center promoting the Tour de Pier with UKF.

“Parents showed unbelievable support in getting their kids involved,” Nick said. “We had pretty much our whole team and were able to start getting other kids from teams within our program to come out for that day.  Since then, our club has partnered with the Uncle Kory Foundation and tried to help them raise as much money as possible for this event. It’s been a really cool experience for everybody and it was amazing to see how much support everybody had, not only for the day, but the Kory Foundation and helping raise money.”

“I rode for an hour, but the whole entire event is five hours because there are five different sessions,” Calvin said. “I was a little tired, but it was not like a race. You don’t have to win it all. You just kind of want to have fun with your friends. It’s just for a good time and not to see who can do the best.”

“When he decided one day that he wanted to put money toward this foundation, we kind of looked at each other and said wow, it was such a proud moment for us to see how much he cared and he took it in,” Nick said. “As a family, it was something that we look back on and it makes us proud of the situation. Calvin is a very caring kid, he’s a great teammate and he gets along with everybody, and this is right up his alley as far as his personality and just trying to give back and doing what he can to help.”

Three different foundations benefit from the Tour de Pier. The Uncle Kory Foundation, the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer that raises money for pancreatic cancer research, and the Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach that delivers free support for people and families dealing with cancer. The event at Manhattan Beach raised $1 million and there is plenty of room to grow.

Anyone can donate today to the cause if they are so inclined by clicking to make a donation.

“We want to try to build great hockey players and we want to try to put kids at the next level if they have the talent, drive and passion, but we also more importantly want to create great people and teach them that hockey is a small part of life,” Nick said. “When bigger things like this happen, you find a way to get together, and in this case  it’s your teammates, and you do whatever you can to support. It’s gone a long way. The kids are very close and they spend the whole day down at the event riding and having fun. It’s a high-energy situation with live music and a lot of excitement for a good cause."

The hope is to grow the event to multiple locations.

“It definitely is something that can take place in other markets,” Nick said. “They would like to grow this if possible or have small satellite events that coincide with this event on the same day. That’s a big goal that they envision and hopefully, that’s not too far away as they could really use help with the fundraising.”

“It feels awesome that an 11-year-old can do much more,” Calvin said of being a part of the effort. “It’s really easy. All you have to do is find a charity you like and help them out.”

Calvin hopes his story will inspire other hockey players, communities and clubs around the country to step up and duplicate efforts for a noble cause.

“You have to work on it and do everything you can to make a difference,” Calvin said.