Northeast Times

Mayfair Taekwon-Do teacher helps battle pediatric cancer

Six-year-old can­cer sur­viv­or Vic­tor­ia Feld­man en­joys the fest­iv­it­ies at a fun­draiser held at Chick­ie’s & Pete’s, Sat­urday, May 5, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Donna Di Paolo)

Start­Frag­ment

As a Taek­won-Do in­struct­or for the last 16 years, Fran Ott has al­ways un­der­stood the im­port­ance of giv­ing back to his com­munity, but not even a shoot-for-the-stars over­achiev­er like Ott could have an­ti­cip­ated this turnout.

On May 5, Ott’s Taek­won-Do of May­fair (7410 Frank­ford Ave.) hos­ted its an­nu­al fund-raiser at Chick­ie’s & Pete’s on Roosevelt Boulevard to be­ne­fit loc­al fam­il­ies with chil­dren who are fight­ing can­cer. A week after the event, Ott was still pon­der­ing a turnout of more than 800 people that helped raised close to $25,000 in a six-hour peri­od (from a pro­cess which began 13 weeks ago), all of which was evenly dis­trib­uted and donated to two fam­il­ies whose daugh­ters, ages 6 and 4, are cur­rently un­der­go­ing treat­ment for can­cer.

As a loc­al busi­ness own­er who trains many chil­dren in mar­tial arts, as well as a fath­er of three young sons, the sense of giv­ing back to the com­munity’s youth has al­ways been something near and dear to Ott. His an­nu­al fund-raiser ori­gin­ally star­ted as a dia­betes be­ne­fit be­cause his cous­in was dia­gnosed with the ill­ness, but Ott soon shif­ted the cause to pe­di­at­ric can­cer when a fam­ily friend was hit hard by the dis­ease.

“When you see a six-year-old go­ing through can­cer treat­ment…it changed my life and how I looked at my sons,” Ott said from his Ben­s­alem home a few days after the mo­nu­ment­al suc­cess of the fund-raiser.

The young­ster Ott was re­fer­ring to was the late A.J. Richter, his former pu­pil whose life was taken by can­cer. Ott spent time with A.J. and his par­ents, An­thony and Mat­ilda, dur­ing A.J.’s hos­pit­al treat­ments and knew that he had to go above and bey­ond to help fam­il­ies deal­ing with pe­di­at­ric can­cer in any way pos­sible.

Last year, Ott held a fund-raiser that raised close to $20,000, an amount that was evenly dis­trib­uted to the Make-A-Wish Found­a­tion and Frankie’s Fight, a loc­al or­gan­iz­a­tion that helps fam­il­ies bat­tling can­cer all year long. (Frankie’s Fight was also in­volved in this year’s be­ne­fit and was awar­ded part of the day’s pro­ceeds.)

This time around, Ott stepped up his game and de­cided that in­stead of rais­ing money just for char­it­able or­gan­iz­a­tions, the main fo­cus would be on dir­ectly giv­ing the funds raised to spe­cif­ic fam­il­ies cur­rently af­fected by pe­di­at­ric can­cer. The day fea­tured pizza-eat­ing con­tests for chil­dren and adults, two loc­al bands and a dee­jay and a Hum­vee brought by the Pennsylvania Na­tion­al Guard. (There was a large mil­it­ary pres­ence as Vic­tor­ia, one of the young girls cur­rently un­der­go­ing treat­ment, has a fath­er who is wait­ing to be re­deployed to Afgh­anistan.) More than $17,000 in raffle tick­ets were sold, with over 35 prize bas­kets that in­cluded Eagles sea­son tick­ets, $1,000 worth of Phil­lies tick­ets, a wheel­bar­row full of spir­its and Laser Tag parties for the kids and their friends.

“I’ve al­ways been a dream­er, and I al­ways tell my stu­dents and my kids to shoot for the stars, be­cause even if you miss you still might hit the moon,” Ott said. “We aimed high, and I think the fam­il­ies were grate­ful. A few thou­sand dol­lars might not save your child’s life, but it can ease the bur­den of wor­ry­ing about oth­er things, like los­ing your house be­cause the can­cer med­ic­a­tion is so ex­pens­ive. That little bit of breath­ing room can go a long way.”

One of Ott’s biggest fans is An­thony Richter, who watched can­cer tra­gic­ally end his own son’s life be­fore team­ing up with Ott to help oth­er fam­il­ies in need.

“The event was a great suc­cess, and the turnout was fab­ulous,” Richter said. “All of the money raised went to these fam­il­ies, who right now in their struggle live paycheck to paycheck. It was great to help, and really im­press­ive that we were able to raise that kind of money. I’ve been there, and I know how im­port­ant it is to take the stress away from your mort­gage to spend as much time with your kids as pos­sible. I thought last year was a suc­cess, but this year was over the top…the place was just mobbed.

“What it does is help keep my son’s memory alive with the event be­ing held in his hon­or,” he con­tin­ued. “Fran or­ches­trated all of this and he doesn’t ask for any money or cred­it or re­cog­ni­tion. It’s his brainchild, and the idea came from his heart, which I’m touched by. His in­teg­rity and the work he does for our com­munity…you can’t ask for a bet­ter Taek­won-Do in­struct­or or a bet­ter man.”

Ott really does not want any cred­it for his de­vel­op­ment of the Pizza Bowl, which the an­nu­al fund-raiser has been dubbed due to the eat­ing con­tests that it en­tails. If any­thing, he’s up­set that he couldn’t do more, but the suc­cess of the event pushes him to make it even big­ger the next time around.

“To see a good friend lose a young son to can­cer made me real­ize that I needed to do more,” he said. “I see how fast my sons are grow­ing up, and it really makes me want to be there for them. You see these fam­il­ies — one with a fath­er about to be de­ployed to fight a war, and the oth­er work­ing so hard just to make ends meet — and they just don’t de­serve this. I don’t do this to make my­self feel good…I do it be­cause I be­lieve in karma and do­ing good things for oth­er people.”

In the days fol­low­ing the event, Richter spoke of the two young girls com­ing to­geth­er at Chil­dren’s Hos­pit­al of Phil­adelphia as they are both un­der­go­ing treat­ment at the same time. The two girls have be­come friends, and their fam­il­ies have leaned on each oth­er for sup­port in such a try­ing time.

“To me, that’s what makes it all worth­while,” Richter said. “The only way to de­scribe go­ing through this is that it leaves a gi­ant hole in­side of you, and see­ing the com­munity come to­geth­er to help make all of this hap­pen is touch­ing, and it makes you a little bit stronger.”

When Ott saw his close friend lose a son, he looked much harder at his own chil­dren and gained a new­found per­spect­ive on what’s really im­port­ant.

“It’s hard not to worry about money, but you have to sit back and look at your life and de­cide what mat­ters,” Ott said. “The event is a fun, big party and it’s nice to be at the cen­ter of it. I’m not just a busi­ness, but a busi­ness that gives back. Con­sid­er­ing we had 800 people, our thought is it can get even big­ger next year and help more fam­il­ies, sort of like a ripple ef­fect. If you give people in­cent­ive to con­trib­ute, then when push comes to shove, they’ll do the right thing.” ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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