By Marco Rosa | 3/27/14 11:00 AM
Being a professional athlete is not just about playing the game you love at the highest level, it is also about being a positive role model out in the community. Whether it be feeding the needy, bringing attention to their favorite cause or promoting the sport to underserved communities, MLL athletes do their part.
Just like Nick Colleluori did when he founded the HEADstrong Foundation to draw awareness to blood cancers, several MLL athletes devote their free time raising awareness to causes near and dear to them. Each month we will profile an MLL athlete that encompasses the same selfless core values Nick had and name them the HEADstrong Humanitarian of the Month.
This month, MLL recognizes Outlaws defenseman Ken Clausen’s community outreach. While his playing time has been limited to eight games in 2010, it is what he has done off the field with his Mustache Madness initiative that makes him stand out as March’s HEADstrong Humanitarian of the Month.
A four-year All-American and 2010 recipient of the William C. Schmeisser Award as the nation’s top college defenseman out of the University of Virginia, Clausen was drafted by the Outlaws fifth overall.
“It was unbelievable,” Clausen said about his time at UVA. “I couldn’t have picked a better group of guys to play with and a better coaching staff to play for. We had some great seasons and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was great, I wish I was still there (laughs) but yeah it was a lot of fun.
“It was quite a change,” he continued about transitioning to the professional game. “Similar to how you see a change from high school to college, it’s a change from college to pro in the sense that it’s so much faster, the ball moves so much quicker, the guys are bigger, faster, stronger and then I think the ability of everyone on the field [is different, too.] Anyone’s capable of scoring at any given time. From a defensive standpoint, you have certain keys on guys you want to focus on and things like that but, man, there are some great players out there. Everyone out there is such a talent, you’ve got to be on your toes all the time.”
During his time at UVA, Clausen looked for ways to give back to the community and while on vacation in Fiji he came across the Movember campaign, which draws attention to men’s health by encouraging them to grow mustaches and raise money during the month of November. Inspired by Movember, Clausen decided to take the initiative one step further as a way to bring the lacrosse community together.
“I’ve always wanted to continue giving back to the community one way or another,” Clausen said. “While I was at Virginia, I was helping out doing some student teaching and volunteering in the community. I first heard about this kind of campaign on vacation in Fiji, of all places, and I heard these guys talking about the Movember campaign that was going on over in Australia and it seemed to have been growing internationally. It sounded really cool and it worked well with me because I already had the finger ‘stache and had some notoriety with this mustache [tattoo] on my finger and my stick so it plugged into things I was already known for.
“The lacrosse community as a whole is known as just such a special and tight knit community,” he continued. “I mean the degrees of separation are everywhere, so I felt like an event [similar to Movember] could work really well within the community and people would hopefully unite around it. The concept of the event is to grow your mustache from October 19th through the end of November.”
And thus Mustache Madness was born. Clausen started involving college lacrosse programs and the initiative has now grown into a national event encouraging teams and individuals to grow mustaches while raising money for the HEADstrong Foundation.
“It’s a team competition, but it can obviously be individual,” Clausen said. “We encourage people to grow their mustache, flash a finger ‘stache and to get family and friends to support it and donate money. Then, we have a team competition within that. Virginia won it the first couple years, Syracuse has taken over and become the champion the last few years here, but it’s a way to continue that competitive spirit in a fun, competitive way and have everyone unite for a great cause. It’s been amazing how well it’s gone so far.”
Clausen started by sharing the money with several charities in 2009, Mustache Madness’ first year, but the following year he partnered with HEADstrong making it the sole beneficiary of the money raised.
“I always knew about HEADStrong growing up, in a general sense,” he said about his partnership with the Colleluori family. “I just think they’re an amazing group; the Colleluori family is incredible and I mean [their foundation is] lacrosse specific and being that ours is a lacrosse foundation, it made a lot of sense in a lot of different ways. I think knowing how hands-on they are with their charitable events and how much they care, how much passion they bring to the table, it really seemed like a no-brainer. It made a lot of sense, and honestly it’s been an absolute joy working with them. I can’t say enough good things about that family. They’re the best people.”
The significance of starting the initiative on October 19th each year lies in the fact that both Clausen and Nick Colleluori were born on that day. However, the connection between Clausen and the Colleluori family runs even deeper.
“It’s actually pretty fun how that worked out,” Clausen said. “So, we originally had started this event on November 1st and it ran through the end of November. Then, after the third year of the campaign,I was talking with Pat Colleluori [HEADstrong founder Nick’s brother] and he had said, ‘why don’t we start this on Nick’s birthday?’ And I was like, ‘ok.’ Then he said, ‘his birthday’s in October,’ and I was like, ‘ok, that’s great. My birthday’s in October as well.’ Then I said, ‘alright Pat, what day is Nick’s birthday?’ and he said, ‘October 19’ and I laughed and said, ‘Pat, you know that’s my birthday as well.’ And so we’ve had this really cool similarity where Nick and myself are from Southeastern PA; he was number 27, I’m number 27; he’s a defenseman, I’m a defenseman; and then, lo and behold, years into this event we realized that we share the same birthday as well and so we’ve now just began the campaign on October 19 and it’s been a really unbelievable coincidence to have these similarities and it was a lot of fun figuring that out.”
The relationship between Mustache Madness and HEADstrong runs very deep, and just this past week at the 4th Annual HEADstrong Limelight Gala, Clausen was honored as the recipient of the Relentless Spirit Award for his hard work.
“It was the first time they had given this award,” Clausen said. “I was incredibly honored to receive it and like I said at the event, I was completely honored to accept the award but it’s really been a team effort. It wouldn’t be possible without the support of the HEADStrong Foundation and the support of the lacrosse community. I consider it a team fight and everyone’s been jumping in and helping out. It was an incredible honor to receive it and an amazing event that they put on and I was really grateful to be honored there.”
To date, Mustache Madness has raised over $400,000 for the HEADstrong Foundation, but Clausen hopes to raise even more.
“I think the future is to definitely keep on growing it,” Clausen concluded. “The last few years we’ve raised over $100,000 in each of the campaigns so to have raised over $400,000 in five years has been unbelievable and hopefully this year we can break that half-million dollar mark as a cumulative total, which would be so tremendous and mind-blowing to me to think that’s where we could be.
“I think the thought is to continue to grow this at any type of level, whether it’s collegiate or at the youth level. Like I said, we’ve really tried to open up where you don’t have to just grow a mustache but you can draw a finger ‘stache, you can do a fake mustache, whatever it is, we just want people having fun and creating awareness about the campaign and ultimately about really what the HEADStrong Foundation is doing and how great those people are. I think that we really have a nice platform to do that and I think each year people see the dollars we’ve raised and they continue to be impressed and surprised, so I hope that we continue expanding our participants and our collegiate teams and get more and more people to join in and see if we can continue to raise more and more money for the Foundation.”
For more information about Mustache Madness visit laxstachemadness.com.