Hands of Steel, Heart of Mush

World champ Brian Viloria of Waipahu is a tough guy with a soft spot when it comes to kids, so he’s leading the Ronald McDonald House Marathon Day Walk on Sunday

Wednesday - December 07, 2005
By Chad Pata
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Nieces Loraine and Alyssa Diego and nephew Fredrick David clamor to touch Uncle Brian world title belt
Nieces Loraine and Alyssa Diego
and nephew Fredrick David clamor
to touch Uncle Brian world title

When Brian Viloria returns home this holiday season, it is not just as a world champion fighter but also as a champion for those who have a much tougher fight on their hands - a fight for their lives.

This weekend Viloria is serving as the Walk Team Leader for the Ronald McDonald House for Children’s Marathon Day Walk. It serves as a fundraiser for the RMHC here in Hawaii, to help it continue to provide the support to families with seriously ill children.

While everyone in Hawaii knows Viloria, and we have all eaten at McDonald’s, the average person has no idea what the RMHC is about or the services it provides.

The charity provides a home-away-from-home for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Locally, it takes in not just families from neighbor islands, but from all the South Pacific islands for whom Honolulu is the closest spot to receive top-end medical treatment for their children.

Many times these families are poor with nowhere to go and at their wit’s end with children on the brink of death. These homes provide not just a roof over their heads, but a community of people who are dealing with the same issues they are facing.

“It is communal living; they share their meals and cry with one another,” says Gene Davis, the former radio broadcaster who today is public relations manager for RMHC. “They can really help each other because they know what each other is going through.”

The concept began in 1974 when Dr. Audrey Evans and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill opened a house in the memory of the philanthropic founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc (thus the name). The idea came to Hill, whose own daughter was suffering through a battle with leukemia, for a place for families that had to travel to seek medical help for their kids.

In the 30 years that have followed, the organization has helped more than 10 million families and has established 250 houses in 25 countries.

Here in Hawaii, the first house opened in Manoa in 1987, and plans are currently being negotiated for a second residence.

Despite the attachment of the Ronald McDonald name, the charities are not under the corporate umbrella of McDonald’s and therefore are reliant on the support of outside donors, requiring fundraisers like this Sunday’s walk.

The walk is done in coordination with the Honolulu Marathon, with the walkers starting at the Ala Moana/Queen Street Annex intersection immediately after the runners pass by. It then follows the race path down to Kapiolani Park where both races finish up.

“It’s great because it allows people who have family members in the marathon to participate without all the training,” says Davis of the 10-K event. “It is not competitive, but you still get to enjoy all the atmosphere of the marathon.”

Viloria will be leading the walk, and participants will have a chance to talk with him both during and after the event.

The first Marathon Race Day Walk last year was a moderate success, Davis says, drawing more than 5,000 participants. But they found that the walkers were predominately Japanese tourists. While the support was appreciated, they wanted to build a local following for the event. They would need someone whom local people respected and would bring some star power to the event.

“We were looking for someone who was fit and could be a champion for the kids,” says Davis. “I spoke with Brian’s manager, Gary Gittlesohn, and Brian was very passionate about helping the kids.”

This passion in Viloria came to a peak in May of this year when a fight with Ruben Contreras went tragically awry. This tuneup bout with Contreras was stopped in the sixth round when Contreras complained of a headache - something you might expect from the recipient of relentless barrages from Viloria, said to be

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