There is an infectious, boyish mischief to PointsBet Canada’s chief commercial and revenue officer Nic Sulsky when he talks about almost anything — even the time he nearly overdosed on the antipsychotic drug olanzapine.
It’s not what you might think.
It was the morning after Sulsky had his first chemotherapy treatment for non Hodgkin’s lymphoma and he was prescribed olanzapine as an anti-nausea medicine. At the time, he was also taking 12 small pills of the anti-inflammatory drug prednisone every day. Worried he had forgotten to take the prednisone, he grabbed the pill bottle, swallowed 12 pills and almost instantly realized, to his horror, that he had taken 12 olanzapine pills by mistake.
“The irony is of overdosing on anti-nausea drugs when you’re not even nauseous and then having to make yourself throw up,” Sulsky told PlayCanada. “And then layered into that is the fact that I was on an anti-psychotic, so I was thinking extraordinarily clearly.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, is this a Coen brothers movie?’ That I was sitting there trying to make myself throw up the day after my first chemo treatment— and I wasn’t even nauseous — was not lost on me.”
Sulsky made a trip to the emergency room and ended up being fine. But he tells this story because an important part of his battle with cancer is speaking openly about it and finding humour in as much of life as possible.
Just as important is eating properly and running every day.
His religious running routine is really what this story is about. Sulsky ran 269 km in November to raise $69,000 (US) for cancer research. Those numbers are an important part of his mischievous world view.
From Monkey Knife Fight to $69,000
In 2017, Sulsky and Bill Asher founded daily fantasy sports company Monkey Knife Fight. Sulsky was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009 — and underwent radiation treatment in 2009 and again in 2012. But around the time Sulsky and Asher started Monkey Knife Fight six years ago, Sulsky started chemotherapy for the first time. Part of his recovery was to work straight through the treatments.
“I started building this company with Bill while I was going through chemo,” Sulsky said. “I didn’t stop. And I worked every day… I believe that comedy and being in good spirits absolutely helps… I’d be in the chemo chair and the chemo register would hit like 666 and I take a picture and I’d send it to [Asher].”
In January of 2021, Asher and Sulsky sold Monkey Knife Fight — the third largest DFS platform after DraftKings and FanDuel — to Bally’s for $90 million (US).
In November, when Sulsky announced on LinkedIn that he was looking for people to sponsor him to run 200 km that month for cancer research, Asher sent him a text that said: “Game on motherf – – – – r. I don’t think you’re gonna be able to run 200 kilometers. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll donate $1,000 for every kilometre you run over 200.”
Sulsky said, “I’m a teenage boy. I find the number 69 very funny. So I decided with about 10 days to go in the month of November that I was going to get to 69 just so Bill had to write a cheque for $69,000.
“It just became motivating…. One of my favourite football players of all time, he’s become a good friend of mine, Jared Allen, wore number 69. Whenever my phone hits 69% battery, I’ll take a screenshot and I’ll send it to my wife, just because it’s funny.”
How Tool fuelled Sulsky’s run for 269km
Sulsky is a huge music fan and going to back-to-back Tool concerts in Toronto in November helped him achieve his running goal.
He took time off work to attend those shows, as well as a KISS concert, and used the break to run some extra kilometres on his usual route on Toronto’s Beltline trail.
“I ran the second-fastest 10k of my entire life the Wednesday morning after going to my second Tool show in a row,” Sulsky said.
He said he had to run more on weekends to increase his monthly total.
“I think my longest run during the month was about 17 kilometres,” Sulsky said. “And that was so hard. I’d never run that much because I’m not a runner. I run for health. I run because it’s fun. I enjoy it. I listen to podcasts and I run. I’m not training for half-marathons. I’m running because of cancer. And now it’s just become part of my routine. So yeah, it was definitely a different exercise running for the kilometres.
“It got to a point where I was like, ‘All right, there’s another $1,000. All right, another $1,000.’”
“I ran my 8.5km in the morning, and then I had 4.7 left to get the 269 and so I stopped working at like five o’clock on a Thursday,” he said. “I typically work later on Thursdays, but I left downtown a little bit early to get home and I ran at the end of the day on Thursday to get to the 269.
“What was really interesting is I decided just to run laps around the park [across the street from my house]. And I’m on the device telling me the exact number to get me to 269 and it was literally right across the street from my house. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really weird.’”
For the month, Sulsky ran for nearly 24 hours total.
Asher was instrumental in the effort
In the end, Asher was even more generous than promised.
“We had never talked about currency,” Sulsky said. “So, I said to Bill, ‘Sixty-nine grand Canadian satisfies the challenge.’ He’s like, ‘I’m gonna give you 69 grand US.’ So, we’re donating close to $94,000 Canadian, which is pretty awesome.”
Sulsky said Asher was also instrumental for the motivation that led to the 269km journey.
“Bill’s text [at the beginning] was really, really nice,” Sulsky said.
“He said: ‘Let’s see how bad you want it. In all seriousness and love, you didn’t just beat cancer, you handled it with such class. You aren’t running to help cure cancer for us old folks, you’re doing it for Ava — who is my daughter — and my kids, so the next generation doesn’t have to face what you and so many people we love have. I’ll be proud to write that cheque in your name. Now, f – – – ing run.’”
How to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society.
PointsBet CEO Scott Vanderwel calls Sulsky a “force of nature”
Asked for thoughts about Sulsky’s successful venture PointsBet Canada CEO Scott Vanderwel told PlayCanada that Sulsky is a “force of nature” that also ran in support of cancer research in November of 2022.
“There is so much that I admire and respect about Nic — the leader he is, the journey he has been on, and the excitement and energy that he brings to every endeavour,” Vanderwel said. “His efforts led our team to be one of the more meaningful sub-50-person Canadian companies contributing to this important cause.
“The sponsorship offer from Bill was incredibly generous, but it came with a real challenge. The fact that Nic was able to blow though the threshold of 200K and achieve a personal all-time record in terms of kilometres run in a given month simply confirms what I and everyone who knows Nic have come to understand, that he is capable of amazing things and when he gets an idea in his head there is nothing that will stop him.
“The team at PointsBet takes great pride in what Nic accomplished and it served as inspiration to so many in our company. We had people walking and running everywhere all month, raising funds and getting behind this important cause and support for men’s health. I am proud of Nic, I am proud of my team, and I think Movember is doing great things.”
Sulsky: “My entire life has been about challenges”
As to what he learned from the challenge, Sulsky paused before answering.
“My entire life has been about challenges. From startups to cancer and I’ve also been married for 20 years. That’s a challenge for you,” he said, laughing and stressing that he was joking. “Honestly, I just really truly believe that anything I put my mind to I can do. I truly believe that. So, I think what I’ve learned is, I could run a half-marathon tomorrow if I wanted to, which is not really anything tangible to learn about myself, but I’ve been dealing with cancer and dealing with startups for so long that I have become desensitized to fear of not being able to accomplish or hit marks.”
As for cancer, Sulsky said he will have non Hodgkin’s lymphoma for the rest of his life.
“I live every day thinking about cancer,” Sulsky said. “I literally think about it every day. Every shower, I’m feeling my lymph nodes and whenever there’s a new pain, I’m like, ‘Oh, I wonder if it’s that.’
“I think I’m actually going to live longer because of non Hodgkin’s lymphoma than if I hadn’t been diagnosed, because my lifestyle, my eating was terrible… I cut out all refined sugar, all sugar period with the exception that I’ll drink the occasional beer and things like that.
“People say, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you haven’t had ice cream in five years.’ In my mind, my back’s up against the wall. When your back’s up against the wall, it’s amazing what you’re able to actually do.”