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Mario Lemieux Foundation Uplifts Cancer Patients And Families

It was a fateful January day in 1993 when Pittsburgh Penguins star center Mario Lemieux received the news. A lump on his neck had grown larger. Doctors diagnosed him with Hodgkin lymphoma. Lemieux, who led the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992, had already posted 101 points in just 39 games played during the 1992–93 season. This news was devastating. But it did not deter Super Mario’s drive to return to action as soon as possible. 

The doctors said Lemieux had a 95% chance of recovering from his ailment, but the NHL star was notably upset, playing the best hockey of his career before being sidelined for treatment. 

After 22 radiation sessions, Lemieux returned to the ice on March 2, 1993, and scored an incredible goal against the Philadelphia Flyers. Lemieux finished the final 20 games of the season with 30 goals scored and 26 assists. Lemieux’s story of perseverance is inspiring to all athletes. Since then, he has been cancer-free. 

Video Courtesy NHL

Since his diagnosis, Lemieux wanted to help others, especially kids, battling cancer. His foundation was established in 1993 to raise money for cancer treatment in cities like Pittsburgh and San Diego. For the past 30 years, the Mario Lemieux Foundation has generated funds to open hospital wings dedicated to pediatric and adult cancer treatments.

The foundation raises funds through fun events like luncheons, golf outings, fun runs, and charity hockey games.

In 1998, Lemieux started a celebrity golf invitational at The Club at Nevillewood in Presto, PA. The golf event was the largest fundraiser the nonprofit held until 2015. The first cancer patient care wing opened in 1999 and was named after the Penguins’ star man. 

In 2000, a new outreach program, Austin’s Playroom, began operations — named after Lemieux’s son. Austin was born prematurely in 1996 and spent 71 days in the NICU. He made it through and is a healthy person today. During his time in the NICU, the family noticed how there was little to occupy young children in waiting rooms. That led to the creation of the initiative. Today, 43 playrooms provide toys, books, and fun for kids and families visiting relatives in hospital care. According to the company website, more than 1.5 million families have benefitted from Austin’s Playroom. There is also Austin’s Military Playroom, supporting veterans and active service members recovering in California, Maryland, and North Carolina military hospitals. 

One of the flagship fundraisers is a fantasy hockey camp. Since 2012, the Lemieuxs have offered an NHL-esque hockey experience. Four teams are created amongst attendees, with two pro captains and two head coaches. Lemieux plays for all teams, rotating between periods. 

The round-robin tournament is one of the biggest fundraisers for the foundation. The events are held in Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena and UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex, the Penguins’ practice facility.

The hockey camp has raised around $5 million as of 2023. 

The hockey camp also hooks attendees up with signed merchandise and photo opportunities with Super Mario. They can also win custom hockey equipment, tickets to a Penguins game in the luxury party suite, and vouchers for some of the top restaurants in Pittsburgh in a silent auction. 

Photo Courtesy Mario Lemieux Foundation

Luncheons and fun runs are held to raise money for cancer research and Austin’s Playroom. More hospital wings donated by the Lemieux family have opened as they continue their commitment to curing cancer. 

The Lemieux Foundations celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2023. In a blog post, the foundation noted how it has raised more than $37 million for cancer research and care, opened 43 Austin’s Playroom, and is closing in on 2 million people helped. 

“While Mario started this project back in 1993, it is donors like you that have helped us sustain and grow our programs throughout the years,” the company said in another blog post. Donations from fans have been crucial in the foundation’s growth and success.  

The Lemiuex Foundation has turned the player’s vision into a reality, benefiting more people from his fundraising efforts every day. His battle with cancer changed his perspective on life. The great No. 66 will always be remembered for his on-ice achievements, just like his contemporary, Wayne Gretzky. Now Lemieux has another thing he’ll be remembered for. 

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