When Stayner Dairy Queen employee, Raymond Hardisty, arrived at work on Thursday afternoon prepared to work a shift, he was greeted by a restaurant full of friends, family and representatives from the Toronto Blue Jays, Sick Kids and Dairy Queen’s Miracle Treat Day initiative.
Upon arrival, Hardisty was handed a phone by Toronto Blue Jays mascot, Ace. On the line was Toronto Blue Jays announcer Buck Martinez to deliver the news to the longtime fan that he will have the opportunity to throw the first pitch at a Blue Jays game later this summer, in order to recognize him for all the work he has done fundraising for children in need at Sick Kids Hospital.
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Hardisty himself knows the important work the staff at Sick Kids Hospital do. He was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of four, received a bone marrow transplant just before his fifth birthday, and developed Graft versus Host Disease. As a result, Hardisty spent the majority of his childhood in and out of the hospital.
Now 29, Hardisty has spent the last ten years giving back to the people he says gave him a second shot at life.
To date, he has raised over $30,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network.
“I know what its like to be a sick child and you’re sitting in the hospital, and you’re wondering why am I here and when do I get to go home. I don’t want to be here anymore. It’s good to give back so that the hospital can get better equipment, create better medications,” he said. “So when they ask their parents that question of when will I be going home, you know, mommy and daddy can say with a proud smile on their face, you get to go home in two days, kiddo.”
When asked how he was feeling after the surprise, Hardisty had little to say other than “wow.”
“It’s just like wow you know? It’s amazing how many people you can touch just by doing something small like giving back,” Hardisty said.
He says the surprise is very fitting, as the Blue Jays have been a big part of his life ever since he was a young child.
“I met a Blue Jay when I was in the hospital, after my cancer battle. I was greeted with a Toronto Blue Jays birthday cake when I turned five and I went to a Blue Jays game before I turned six.” He says over the years he has been to countless games.
Most nights, Hardisty says you can catch his parents watching the game. He himself tries to tune in for the last few innings after a shift at work.
Hardisty says the whole ordeal was a complete surprise. “I had no idea,” he said.
However, those around him know just how much work was put into keeping it all under wraps for the last month.
Hardisty’s sister, Lisa Hardisty, says keeping it all from her brother wasn’t easy. “We’ve all almost spilled the beans a couple of times… I’m just glad it’s finally coming to fruition.”
But she says all the anxiety surrounding the surprise was worth it.
“This all means a lot, he puts his heart and soul into everything, he works so hard June, July and August, especially fundraising for Sick Kids. He literally goes around with just a paper sign and collects thousands of dollars in donations, so just all of the hard work and determination that he does to put into that is great, and to see the community come out and support him like this and the Blue Jays corporation, for instance, is overwhelming,” she said
“Really I would never expect a paper sign to turn into something like this. We just really love him and love all of the effort he puts into everything,” she said.
Now, she says she can’t wait to see her brother throw the first pitch later this summer.
Hardisty’s boss and Stayner Dairy Queen franchise owner, Sherry Schaap, says over the last 10 years that Hardisty has been working at Dairy Queen, they have cultivated a close relationship. She says seeing the overwhelming support for Hardisty in her restaurant today “warmed her heart.”
“You know he gives so much to the community, to sick kids and it truly is amazing how one human being can give back so much. And he does it, he has the biggest heart. I can’t say enough good about him. He’s just one special person,” Schaap said.
She says over the last ten years, the community has rallied around Hardisty in support of his fundraising efforts.
“They support him year after year and as soon as Raymond asks for anything they have supported him and it’s so nice that they could be here in support of him today,” she said.
Hardisty is scheduled to throw the first pitch at the Blue Jays versus Boston Red Socks game on August 8 at the Rogers Centre.