John Villar sits at the table in one of the glassed-in meeting rooms at HSBCs Alexandria office, the image of professionalism in an immaculate dark pinstripe suit. This is a man who does much more than navigate the financial world at the worlds biggest banking group, though. Over the last few years, he has been finding ways to translate his love of sports into a way of giving back to his community.
A graduate of Stratford Landing Elementary School and West Potomac High School, Villars roots in the city are deep. He was born in the Philippines and his family moved to Chicago shortly after, but they settled in Alexandria in 1980. Effectively, Ive been here all my life, he said. This is my home and a lot of my friends are here, which makes it fun to go out and run into people I know. Old Town is such a small community.
Villar has gotten involved with a number of local sports organizations. He has been involved in promoting the Alexandria Aces, the citys new collegiate league baseball team. This is his fifth year as a part of the Alexandria Sportsmans Club, where he currently serves as president. Himself a product of the Alexandria school system, the Sportsmans Club now has Villar supporting and encouraging area kids.
Being a sports guy growing up and still being a sports guy now, its awesome to recognize local student athletes here, he said of the club, which promotes student athletes from T.C .Williams, St Stephens & St Agnes, Episcopal and Bishop Ireton high schools. Its nice to be able to do that, to see their faces, with that smile. These are all accomplished student athletes, a lot of them are going on to higher education and to play at that level, some arent, but if you can work with them at a really early age and instill work ethic and support them, that goes a long way.
A lifelong athlete, Villar rattled off a list of just about every mainstream sport when asked what he played as a kid, although soccer was not a big sport with my friends, he noted.
My favorite sports growing up were baseball and basketball. Football I played but at some point everyone grew and I didnt. You had to pick and choose. Now, my personal hobbies are cycling I love doing that, he said. His favorites have evolved over time, though. Getting older, two knee surgeries, you start to wear down a bit a pick your battles. You find the easier sports that arent as impactful on your bones and your joints.
Really, though, its when he talks about encouraging student athletes, and now, using sports for a good cause, that Villars passion comes through.
This year, Villar is one of two Alexandrians in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Societys Man and Woman of the Year campaign. He has been involved in fundraising efforts for the society for a couple of years now, but this was a big move. Like most journeys, it began with a step or, in Villars case, several thousand.
Ive actually raised money in the past for the society. I got involved with it a couple of years ago through a friend of mine who worked for the society, he explained. I do a lot of endurance events. I do century rides, which is a hundred miles on a bike, and I do sprint triathlons as well, and she thought it would be a good opportunity for me to try something new and raise money along the way.
Villar proved to be an effective fundraiser, raising $6,000 his first year a participant of one of the Team and Train events. He was asked to be a team captain for another similar event last year, and clearly impressed he was asked at the end of 2007 to participate in the Man of the Year campaign. He was initially a little hesitant, but quickly came around.
Ask any candidate who doesnt have this cancer, theyll say theyd do this all day long and not have to go through what they go through, which is chemotherapy, they go through a lot of aches and pains, and theres always the chance of dying from it or going through remission, he said. I do it because of little kids like Hannah and Hunter [two cancer patients]. If they can be strong, heck, I can be strong for 10 weeks.
The Man and Woman of the Year campaigns aim to raise large amounts of money for the society, with the 17 area candidates engaging in friendly competition to see who can raise the most. Stephanie Kundrotas, also an Alexandria resident, is competing for Woman of the Year. Villar had a black tie event in April at the Carlyle Club that raised $23,000, Salon Amarti helped him raise about $1,000 and Top Golf did a fundraiser that collected $2,300 last weekend. One of his last events will be a happy hour next week, and he hopes to finish strong. If I could finish up with $30,000, $35,000, Id be pretty excited about that, he said.
The campaign wraps up on June 14 with a black-tie gala, but whatever the outcome, Villar will still be working to give back, and he encourages others to do the same.
Try to find a fun charity to work with, because everyone can do this. Its doesnt have to be the Leukemia & Lymphoma society, it doesnt have to be the American Heart [Association], it can be anything – give back. Giving back to the community is fun, and its definitely rewarding, so if theres one thing I get out of it, its [a feeling of] accomplishment.