A friend’s battle with Cystic Fibrosis spurred Vancouverite Duncan Gillespie and pals Andrew and Graham Dalik to found the Vancouver Leisure Society and Lawn Summer Nights, a four-week lawn bowling tournament held every Thursday in July benefitting Cystic Fibrosis Canada. In memory of Eva Markvoort, who died from the inherited lung disease in 2010 at the age of 25, Gillespie’s unique lawn bowling event – a mix of food and drink and friendly competition– has exploded in popularity and success since its inaugural tourney in 2009 that generated $11,000. This year’s fundraiser and 160 spots sold out in minutes. Attracting the young and the beautiful, mostly 20 and 30-somethings, to the old sport of lawn bowling, the ICBC Change Manager has raised $240,000 to date, spawned a similar event in Toronto and signed up KPMG as a national presenting sponsor.
How did you pick up lawn bowling?
I was living in Sydney Australia with friend and co-founder of our event, Andrew Dalik, when his brother Graham (another co-founder) came down to visit. One summer afternoon a bunch of us decided to give ‘barefoot bowls’ a try, which is a pretty popular pastime for all ages in Australia. We headed to the local Manly Bowls Club, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. The fact that lawn bowling clubs in Australia are the cheapest place around to enjoy a cold pitcher of beer might have had something to do with it too.
Can you briefly explain the game?
Most people are familiar with Bocce, which has the same objective. Essentially, you’re trying to get your ‘bowls’ closest to the white ‘jack’. The main difference is that lawn bowling is played on a completely flat lawn, but the bowls themselves have a bias – so they curl when you roll them.
Best part of the game?
We love the social aspect; the friendly competition comes second. It’s a casual game, and a great excuse to hang out with friends in the sunshine.
None of the 200 people at our Vancouver event are experienced bowlers, so I’m sure we had a number of challenges. But I think it would take my fingers and toes to count the number of times I heard “wait, the balls aren’t round?” Getting used to the curl is probably the toughest part.
How did Vancouver Leisure Society come about?
We had so much fun lawn bowling that day in Sydney, and wanted to bring the experience back to Vancouver. We also saw it as a great way to get old and new friends together. Philip Lyall, co-director/producer of the documentary 65 Red Roses, and a good friend of mine was also with us in Sydney that day. He had brought a rough cut of the film with him, which follows our friend Eva Markvoort through her struggles living with Cystic Fibrosis, and the months surrounding her double-lung transplant. After watching the film that night, the inspiration was clear. As soon as we returned to Vancouver, we started the not-for-profit VLS so that we could organize ‘Lawn Summer Nights’ - a lawn bowling fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis Canada.
Positions for all 40 teams filled up quickly.
I feel like the social conscience of the millennial generation is only growing stronger these days. A lot of young people are hungry to do something for a good cause, but finding that chance isn’t always easy. Our event offers a great opportunity for people in their twenties and early thirties to get involved in a worthy cause, and have a lot of fun while they do it. It’s social, a great place to meet new friends, and our amazing sponsors provide the delicious dinner and beverages to make the summer evening complete.
How did you convince a Lawn Bowling club, generally with more senior members, to open their door to the young and stylish?
Granville Park Lawn Bowling Club has been so welcoming to us, and we’ve had a lot of kudos from the bowls community for introducing some new blood to the game. The Kerrisdale Club even offered us their bowls so that we had enough for the event. We definitely do things a bit differently, and I’m glad they’ve been so open to it. I think the more progressive clubs like Granville Park will be successful in attracting the next generation.
I understand you also have a personal connection?
Supporting Cystic Fibrosis Canada was an easy choice for me. CF is a terrible disease that cuts far too many lives short. This month I lost a second close friend to CF, and it was a strong (and very emotional) reminder for why we do the event. Both Eva and Rachel died before the age of 26. I’m 27, and have to be grateful for the health I’ve been given. That’s why we do this event, and also why I’ve joined the Board for the Cystic Fibrosis Canada Lower Mainland Chapter.
Dedicated in Eva’s honour, what would she make of this?
The best part about our first year’s event in 2009 was that Eva was able to join in the fun. She was so full of life and love, and I still have this image of her dancing across the greens looking gorgeous in her vintage polka dot dress. Eva’s personality was so vibrant and contagious; she shared so much love, and celebrated life more than anyone I’ve known. That’s what this event is about: celebrating life, and helping those with CF live longer lives so that they have more time to celebrate as well.
What’s the biggest misconception about cystic fibrosis?
Most people think of CF as a children’s disease. It’s not really a misconception, but proof of the progress that research and treatments have made in recent years. In the 1960’s, most children born with CF were lucky if they lived long enough to attend kindergarten. Today, half of all Canadians with CF are expected to live in to their 40s. There’s still so much work to do, but real hope from the progress so far.
For the first time, the tournament was held in Toronto.
The Vancouver event has been an enormous success. We spent the first 3 years learning and improving our event at home, and were confident the idea would work in other cities as well. We teamed up with the CF Toronto & District Chapter, and a group of young professionals at KPMG (our National Presenting Sponsor). The team on the ground in TO was amazing, and I know they’re already looking forward to next year.
Are there plans for other Canadian cities?
Definitely. We’re already working with Cystic Fibrosis Canada to look at potential cities for 2013. I can’t say where yet, but you can expect more Lawn Summer Nights events next year. Who knows, maybe we’ll cross borders and oceans one day.
Each year we’ve grown the funds raised exponentially - from $11,000 in our first year to $135,000 in 2012. We couldn’t be happier with the results, and it couldn’t have happened without the strong engagement of everyone who participates. Teams have started doing their own fundraisers on the side, including bar nights, BBQ’s, even selling $1 hugs. This year’s top team raised over $7,300 in donations.
Losing the two people with CF who I cared about the most. I really hoped that we’d be able to make a difference before their time came, but the reality of a life-shortening disease is that you don’t have much time. The bright side is that through this work I’ve met so many other amazing people who are impacted by CF, and if anything my motivation to keep building this event has grown even stronger.
What does success look like?
Making Lawn Summer Nights a flagship event for Cystic Fibrosis; we want to share the spirit behind it with so many more. And hopefully one day that will enable us to make ‘CF’ stand for Cure Found.
Best life lesson you’ve learned?
Passion makes the work easy. I know we’ve all put a lot of work into this event, and at times it’s been tough, but the passion keeps us going. That’s something that I still need to take advantage of more in my life, but I’m getting there.
One lesson you’d love to give others?
One of my favorite quotes was from Greg Bell, who I saw speak at TEDx Portland last year: “Give away knowledge and give away love, because they’re the only two things that will multiply.”
One thing you could change about the world?
Make ‘CF’ stand for Cure Found.
One thing you hate most about the world?I don’t hate many things.
One thing you wish Vancouverites would stop whining about?
The weather. I caught myself the other day - after whining like everyone else about the horrible June we had, I went to Toronto for the first night of our event and complained that it was too hot. I think it’s about time we take those lemons and make some lemonade.
Three words to live byLove, love, love! Those words are from Eva, who lived by them like no other.
Most thankful for
Life and surrounded by some amazing people doing amazing things.
One thing you can’t live without?
The ocean. I think I’ll be ‘coastal’ for the rest of my life. I can’t even explain why, but between the air, freshness, views and the other activities it opens up, I’m sold.
Last $20 bucks to your name, how would you spend it?
Buy 4 Purdy’s ice cream bars, eat one myself, and bribe 3 friends with the others to support me until I get another $20.
Best place for coffee?Elysian Coffee on Broadway, they have awesome coffee, great vibe and cool people. I happened to be walking by their new roasting space on Granville Island the other day when the owner and head roaster invited us in to see the roasting in action.
I love the Vancouver Urban Winery on Dunlevy Street., and the fact that our city has a place as cutting edge as this one. They just opened their doors to the public a couple months ago, and the venue is really cool. They have a ton of wine on tap, and they showcase a bunch from BC, paired with delicious tasting plates.
Abigail’s Party in Kits, definitely! Brunch is my favorite meal, and these guys make it with extra love. Nine times out of ten I go for the unique and delicious daily special.
Last book read?
The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz It’s a great view into the work that Acumen Fund does throughout the developing world, and proof that social good and profits can not only coexist, but can be symbiotic.
All-time favorite movie?
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Cruising the seawall on a bike with friends.
Favourite sports team?
Canucks, obviously, is that boring?
Last place traveled? On my way to Australia I travelled for five months in SE Asia. I see travelling and vacations as two very different things. They can both be a refreshing break from the day-to-day, but travelling is an eye-opening experience. My favorite country was definitely Laos.
Best thing about this city?
The location. The climate and landscape open up so much opportunity. There are things to do in all four seasons, and when we do have summer, we take advantage of every minute.
Worst thing about this city?
I hate the fact that you can’t ‘legally’ have a picnic in a park with a bottle of wine. One day I would love to change that. Maybe I’ll propose a Picnic Bill so that we can enjoy our public spaces and support local wineries at the same time.
Your favourite neighbourhood?
Gastown – I love the restaurants, cocktail bars, and cobblestone alleyways.
What would the perfect day in Vancouver look like for you?
One day I’ll follow through and go snowboarding in the morning, and swim in the ocean in the afternoon. Vancouver is one of a few spots in the world where that’s actually possible.
Community event, festival or gala that you look forward to every yearI love the summer season and the farmers markets that have popped-up all over the city. There’s something to be said about shopping for produce outdoors, and chatting with someone who you know had a hand in growing it.
The one place you take out-of-town visitors to show off our city?
I think one of the best things about Vancouver is how easy it is to escape the city on the weekends. I love showing people the drive up Howe Sound to Whistler, and some of the hikes and waterfalls along the way.
Who inspires you?
From the restaurateurs to the social media start-ups, all the entrepreneurs in this city. It’s really inspiring to see someone take a creative idea, and have the guts to make it a reality.
Who bugs you?
Local person you most admire?
I love what those guys from the Buried Life have done. They broke the MTV mold of frivolous birthday parties, massive mansions, and greasy reality TV stars. Instead they’re doing some great things to help others in need, and having a blast along the way.
Most memorable celebrity encounter?Probably meeting Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton at the Vancouver Summit when I was in grade 3. The secret service didn’t even trust eight year olds.
If you could be any celebrity?Richard Branson. He’s an incredibly successful entrepreneur, and he lives life like no other.