Man of the Year: Meet the Cambridge Man Using Mario Kart and Kickball to Fundraise for LLS

man of the yearSean O'Connell fully commits to the kickball aesthetic.

A few years ago, the people behind the podcast “Overthinking It” asked a head-scratcher: Was becoming Batman the best way for Bruce Wayne to fix Gotham? He spent billions of dollars and years of his life becoming the Caped Crusader; couldn’t he have used his time and money to fund medical research and make connections with other wealthy Gotham residents? The return on investment for being Batman, as it turns out, isn’t actually very good.

Using that metric, it’s a fact: Sean O’Connell is better than Batman.

By day, O’Connell is a systems analyst who works with dialysis software. But on nights and weekends, the Cambridge resident is a formidable fundraiser, hosting events like the annual Hyannis Hyball Tournament to raise money for the MIT Police’s Sean Collier Scholarship Fund. Now, he’s in the running for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) 2016 Man of the Year competition.

“Not very many people could get 70-plus thirty-somethings to go to the Cape for a weekend, sleep in bunkbeds and play softball for charity,” says Anastasia Kaloyanides, who nominated O’Connell for Man of the Year. “And he has.” (In fact, she says the Hyball event grows bigger every year.) 

“[Kaloyanides] was like, ‘I know there’s only so many hours in the day, but why don’t you plan that and a bunch of other events for LLS on top of that?’” O’Connell recalls with a laugh. The LLS Man and Woman of the Year fundraiser pits nominees against each other to see who can raise the most money for blood cancer research—and O’Connell has a competitive streak, so he says he’s up for the challenge. He’s already held events including a flip cup championship earlier this year and a Mario Kart tournament at Samba. This past weekend, he hosted kickball at Conway Field in Somerville, and he’s organizing a Derby Day benefit at Scholars next month. “If my friends are going to donate … I’d rather make it fun, and earn it, and kind of get us together,” O’Connell explains. “That brings in friends and friends of friends, and it’s a great way to meet new people.”

man of the year

Making some new friends at last month’s LLS kickoff gala.

“People are drawn to him, and people want to help him,”Kaloyanides adds. “He’s just so enthusiastic about everything he does.”

Kaloyanides has been involved with LLS since 2004, and her cousin’s daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2010. She ran for—and won—the organization’s Woman of the Year title in 2011. But beyond his friendship with Kaloyanides and his fundraising experience, O’Connell doesn’t have a direct connection to LLS. That became evident at a kickoff event for the competition last month, when all the Man and Woman of the Year nominees got up on stage to introduce themselves. The four female nominees have all had direct ties to cancer, the other two Men of the Year nominees are cancer survivors themselves. “I had to get up last to speak, and I just sort of stood there, slack-jawed, like, ‘Am I a fraud?'” O’Connell says. “‘What am I doing?’”

But, as Kaloyanides explains, it’s almost a benefit to bring in people who aren’t aware of the work LLS is doing into the fold. Since nominating O’Connell, she says he’s done extensive research into the organization and really thrown himself into his fundraising efforts.

“To me, that says more about Sean than anything else—to pick up a banner than you aren’t emotionally invested in and throw your entire being into it,” she says. “He brings something really different to something that can be so heavy. He understands the seriousness of it—but he understands that laughter gets you through.”

And will his lack of personal ties to LLS stop O’Connell from doing everything possible to take home the Man of the Year moniker? Not a chance. He has seven weeks (and a few days) to raise money before the closing ceremonies, and he plans to use every bit of that time to push for that number one spot.

“I’m competitive enough to work toward that,” he laughs. “Winning is going to be the biggest objective.”

You can donate to O’Connell’s Man of the Year fundraiser and learn more about his efforts here, or grab tickets to next month’s Derby Day benefit on Eventbrite.