MIDDLETON — Put up your dukes, Parkinson’s disease, because Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton is coming for you. And he’s bringing friends with him.
It was a full house yesterday at the Ferncroft Country Club as foursomes from around the Bay State came out in support of Thornton and the Boston Bruins Foundation’s third annual “Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s” golf tournament.
Joined by linemate Danny Paille and netminder Tuukka Rask, Thornton welcomed Bruins fans who enjoyed 18 holes of golf followed by dinner and cocktails, as well as a raffle and silent auction with a chance to win one-of-a-kind sports memorabilia and other items.
All of the proceeds benefit the Boston Bruins Foundation and the American Parkinson Disease Association.
“It’s a good time. I know a lot of people, and they have been very supportive the last few years,” Thornton said. “I like to keep this (tournament) pretty loose and pretty relaxed and fun, and I think everyone enjoys it, so they keep coming back, which is great.”
When the tournament first started, Thornton had to find enough foursomes to fill out the tournament. Now that the event is in its third year, word-of-mouth seems to be doing some of Thornton’s job for him.
“As far as foursomes go, the first year, I had to go out and beg and plead for people to sign up, but now everyone keeps coming back, so that part has been unbelievably easy for me,” Thornton said. “As far as donations, a lot of people stepped up and keep giving us more and more. The people have been very supportive — everyone around town, from the people who donated and the people who paid money to come.”
Thornton was also grateful that his two teammates came out, although he wasn’t overly surprised, as the Bruins have as close a locker room as you will find in professional sports.
“Both of them (Paille and Rask) were around and said they’d be happy to do it. Our teammates are pretty close. Me and Tuukka are pretty good friends; we co-own a boat together, so we’re pretty tight,” Thornton said. “Me and (Paille) have been linemates for a long time, and he’s the only other guy who sticks around during the summer so we see a lot of each other. I’m very thankful I’ve had supportive teammates.”
One of those people was 50-year-old Dan McCarthy, who was participating in the event for the first time. McCarthy has played in many a golf tournament, so he knows a classy event when he sees one.
“It was fantastic. I have played a lot of tournaments, and this is a high-class event. The course was in great shape, and it was a beautiful day. You couldn’t have picked a better one weather-wise,” McCarthy said. “And it’s a great cause. I follow the story of Michael J. Fox and his efforts in the cause, and I think it’s great Shawn chose something as noble as the APDA.”
The APDA had members of its Massachusetts chapter in attendance for the event, as well as an informational booth set up with different pamphlets ranging from Parkinson’s awareness to different exercise guidelines and principles for people living with the disease.
Chapter VP and avid Bruins fan Robert Tullis, who has Parkinson’s, knows full well the importance of a charity like this.
“(Parkinson’s) affects all kinds of people, the young and the old. It doesn’t just affect that person, it affects their whole family, community and their work life,” said Tullis, who’s been thrilled with the selflessness of Thornton and the Bruins Foundation in staging the event.
“What impresses me about this is the amount of volunteers that are really involved. There’s nobody with their hand out looking for anything. It’s purely a volunteer, underground push.”
That push is led by Thornton, who has a unique perspective on the disease, having watched his grandmother battle it for the final decade and a half of her life.
“I was touched by it with my grandmother. She had it for the last 14 or 15 years of her life. It was pretty heart-breaking to walk in her home and see her shaking in her wheelchair, not being able to get or be able to do anything really,” Thornton said. “I have those memories, and they are tough to think about. I’m just happy I can give back the little bit that I do.”
The cause is personal for Thornton which makes it an important one for his friend and goalkeeping confidant, Rask.
“I think it’s (raising money for Parkinson’s) something original. There’s not too many of those around here, and I know it’s close to his heart. It’s good for everybody,” said Rask, who was attending his second Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s Tournament. “I’ve been here a couple of times. My buddy’s hosting it, so if I am around I will always come.”
Rask spent the offseason in his native Finland. Thornton meanwhile spends his offseasons in and around the Boston area, and the entire Massachusetts community benefits greatly from it. Thornton racks up more minutes doing charity than he does for fighting majors.
He is on the boards of charities like The Claddagh Fund, which raises money for the most underfunded nonprofit organizations that support vulnerable populations in our communities, the Teamsters Local 25 Gala for Autism, and is also a spokesperson for Youk’s Kids, former Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis’ charity.
Thornton is also involved with Joe Fallon’s New England Warrior Benefit — a fundraiser designed to honor U.S. Special Operations Forces and their families.
“It’s been a really busy summer with a lot of that stuff,” Thornton said. “But I am around, and it’s pretty simple to give back when you can.”