Vince Danielsen - Receiver - 1994-01 - UBC
Inner drive carried from sports into business Gyle Konotopetz - Business Edge 01/23/2003
When Vince Danielsen extols the virtues of fitness and health, it comes across as much more than a sales pitch from the youthful president and owner of the Calgary operations of Innovative Fitness.
Danielsen’s words are laced with pure passion, hitting home with the brute force of a kick in the teeth or a smash-mouth collision of two 300-pound linemen on the gridiron, Danielsen’s former “office.”
At age 15, Danielsen was given a 50-50 chance at life after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma cancer. He has a constant reminder of that ordeal, sporting a scar on his neck from the surgery.
He not only won the battle against cancer but also played out a dream in storybook fashion, starring for eight seasons in the Canadian Football League as a receiver with
the Calgary Stampeders and going out in style with a Grey Cup champagne bath.
As a professional athlete, Danielsen never forgot his toughest fight as a teenager, building his career on the foundations of health and fitness.
And now, as a budding entrepreneur promoting fitness in corporate Calgary, Danielsen, the 31-year-old head of marketing and promotions for the company that also has studios in West Vancouver, Kitsilano, B.C., and Bellevue, Wash., believes the same values of health and fitness can breed champions in the boardroom.
Who’s to argue with a two-time Grey Cup champ who outran cancer?
What was your boyhood dream?
“I wanted to be a professional football player. Empire Stadium was just down the street from us where I grew up in East Vancouver, and my brothers and I would hop the fence and go play football on the B.C. Lions field until they chased us out.”
How did your battle with cancer shape your life?
“It made me understand how fragile life is. A lot of people don’t experience that until their 40s or 50s, and then they get scared. But I worked at being healthy from the time I was 15 because I don’t ever want a doctor to tell me that (a 50-50 chance of surviving) again. It gave me a different perspective of obstacles in business and in sport because I’d already beaten something that was very large to me. I happened to have an experience where I was able to win and be a champion in defeating something that was going to take me down. Now, when I go into business situations or when I’m playing in a Grey Cup before 70,000 people with hurting legs, I know where my drive comes from. I know I’m stronger. I have that edge now, a business edge, that I think I got when I was a child fighting cancer.”
How did a visit from B.C. Lions star kicker Lui Passaglia to your home when you were ill with cancer affect you?
“You realize how much of an impact a professional athlete can make. When you see kids as a professional athlete, make sure you wave to them, shake their hand and say a word to them. As humans, we often feel we can’t have an impact on someone in such a short period of time. But what Lui taught me was that you can. So that inspired me to create a program for kids (with cancer) across the country called Every Yard Counts. They can come to a CFL game with their family members, they get autographs, they get to meet the players in the locker room and get pictures. It gets their minds off the chemotherapy, the blood counts and the spinal taps.”
How has the time you spend visiting kids in the cancer ward at Alberta Children’s Hospital influenced your life?
“We can all lose perspective when we get wrapped up in our businesses and our lives. When I visit a kid, it brings me back to earth and lowers me down. Charity is not just for the people you give it to. It’s for yourself. That’s when you know you’re involved in a passionate charity – when you get a lot out of it. The kids give me a perspective to bring me down to earth so that I can get back and attack life again with a good head on my shoulders.”
Who was your hero? “My dad (Per, who died of stomach cancer in July of 2001) taught me so many things about being able to communicate with people. To be able to say your father is your hero is a beautiful thing. Heroism must be deserved and to me it has to be someone who impacted me my whole life, as my dad did. He wasn’t a man of many words, but you learned from his actions. He was a (public relations) guy and he knew how to walk into a room and make everyone feel special. As a kid, I remembered how he touched people because of his demeanour, his communication skills and genuineness.” (Danielsen dedicated the 2001 season to Per Danielsen, whose name is engraved on his 2001 Grey Cup ring).
What do you most cherish about your football career?
“It’s the championships that are most memorable. That’s why you work so hard through the painkillers and the injuries. And it teaches you so much about life, because you can’t win championships every year. I went through eight years of football and I won three championships (including two Grey Cups). When you have that experience, you understand how to build a business properly. Nothing good comes easy. If you win the lottery, that’s a blessing, but it’s not life. A lot of players can’t transfer what they learn on the football field into the boardroom. But you know what? All the principles are the same. A lot of times I looked at Wally Buono (former Stampeders general manager and coach) and wondered why he was doing things the way he did. But, when you own your business, you look back and you know.”
What was it like being a spectator at Stampeder games last season after retiring at age 30, knowing that you could have played longer?
“I had a goal half way through my career to have a smooth transition out of football into business. So I’d really planned my departure long before getting out. A lot of times, athletes leave because they get cut, get kicked out or get too old and injured. When I left, I didn’t have a feeling of want anymore. So, when I sat in the stands, I didn’t yearn to be on the field again. The only thing I missed were the brief moments of competition. You know, fourth quarter, you’ve got a chance to make the big catch. That’s what I already miss. But I was finished with football when I was done with it, and I was able to look ahead. And my body hurt. Everything hurt. I didn’t want to be 40 and have arthritis.”
So what’s your big catch, your big adrenaline rush, now?
“It took me a long time to figure out what I’m passionate about and what gets me up in the morning. And for me it was building things. For my whole life, I’ve had to build myself up as an individual every off-season. Your business is your body, and now that’s my business. What I loved was that I was constantly building something to reach my goals, and now, when I look at business, that’s what I’m passionate about.”
What did Buono teach you?
“Wally taught me how to be loyal to the core people of your company and how to promote from within.”
How do you feel about the conflict between Buono and the Stamps’ new regime that led to the coach’s recent resignation and signing with B.C.?
“The new people (owner Michael Feterik and new Stamps executive Fred Fateri) didn’t listen to media consulting and damaged things in the community with the team. It’s going to take a while to repair that. When you run a business that’s not in the media, you just run it. But when you run a business in the media, you do things behind closed doors. It’s wrong for people to treat Wally that way. Now, should he have left on the business side? Well, maybe. But not that way.”
Who’s the person you most admire in sports or business?
“I admire people that start from scratch with nothing, no one gives them a chance and yet they can always prove people wrong. The person that comes to mind is my good friend Jeff Garcia (star quarterback of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers). No one gave him a chance here (with the Stampeders). I love that inner drive of people who can go into pressure situations and come out on top year after year after year. Those same traits can be used in business.”
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