Sometimes being a little crazy can take you a long way. That’s true for Cameron Hughes. The dancing, yelling, T-shirt-throwing, crowd-pumping guy has all the energy of an ‘80s rock star – without the choreography. And people love him. He’s a wild man with a big heart, and his enthusiasm spreads through every crowd he’s in.
Cameron, who gets people clapping, dancing and cheering at venues across North America and abroad, says: “I call myself a spark. My goal is to get that six-year-old kid waving a T-shirt over his head and the whole section going crazy.” Or he might target a young couple that’s “too cool for school” or an 80-year-old grandmother to get into the action during one of his “magical moments” with the crowd.
His first magical moment came on a snowy night in 1994. Cameron was at an Ottawa Senators’ game at the Civic Centre. It was the middle of the third period, Ottawa was losing and the audience sat gloomily. That’s when he decided to wake things up, by getting out of his seat to dance to Sister Sledge’s We Are Family in his now-famous Super Fan style.
Ten thousand people turned around and stared at him. Even his buddy sitting next to him said, “What ARE you doing?” But the fans started clapping along and soon the crowd was “going nuts.”
The next day, Cameron was back at his $6-an-hour job maintaining a local rink when he opened the Ottawa Sun sports section to discover himself on the front page. Then a representative from the Senators called – they wanted him back. It was the beginning of Cameron’s career as a professional fan.
Born and raised in Ottawa, Cameron credits his high school years at Lisgar Collegiate for his ability to find the silver lining on the sidelines. Year after year, he tried out for the basketball team – and every year he got cut while his best friend made it. “Instead of sulking,” he says, “I went and cheered him on and the rest of the team.”
Those years were a defining time in Cameron’s life. Sadly, with his mother dying of cancer and left wondering what to do with his life, he had a “let’s go for it” moment. Twenty years later, while not following a solid plan, Cameron has a successful career travelling across North America and internationally as a sports entertainer, TV host, and motivational speaker.
One of his highlights was being hired by the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Committee for various events, including the Canada-U.S. gold-medal hockey game. He was driving down a street in L.A. when he got the call. “I started crying because every flight I’ve been on, every motel in the middle of nowhere, every time I’ve been alone . . . all those tough moments of rejection paid off,” says Cameron. “It was my gold medal moment.”
Every event for Cameron is different, depending on the crowd. At the US Open tennis tournament, he was on the stage with 25,000 people and won over the fans and players, even having a dance-off with tennis star Novak Djokovic. He also spends time pumping up eventgoers for corporations such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola or speaking to community and school groups.
“My message with kids is about really getting involved in high school and in your community, because you never know what’s going to happen later on in life and what interests you’re going to spark.” Cameron challenges them to chase their dreams, no matter what obstacles they encounter, adding that people didn’t always “get him” but the key is to “keep showing up.”
His unique work and personal charm recently won over ABC television host Katie Couric, who saw his tape. Believing that she thought he was crazy and didn’t know what to do with him, Cameron came up with the Challenge for Change concept for her show, in which he’d go to several cities and motivate each community to pull off a major goal within 24 hours. In Phoenix, they got 1.5 million meals donated to the food bank, and in Denver they collected 8,000 coats.
While he loves the travel and excitement of his job, Cameron claims he will always be an Ottawa boy. “If I made a list of the top 10 events of my career, two of them would be in Ottawa: the first time I got up, and when the Senators called me back for their 20th anniversary year. I was so touched by that. There’s no greater feeling than being introduced in your hometown and putting the jersey on.”
Cameron admits he’s got a pretty cool day job. “I didn’t set out to do this – I didn’t know this was going to happen. I went to high school and was just another kid, and I’m still just another kid from Ottawa.”