With tears in her eyes, Yatta Estelle Bright stood at the finish line of Dolphins Cancer Challenge (DCC) on Saturday waiting for her friends to complete the 5K Run/Walk.
“I lost my husband Etienne to brain cancer just a few months ago,” said Bright, a clinical lab technician in Broward County. “The doctors and staff at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center were wonderful, and I want to tell them how much that support meant to both of us.”
It was one of countless emotional moments at Sun Life Stadium, as thousands of South Floridians whose lives have been touched by cancer came together to honor lost loved ones, celebrate victories over the disease, and raise funds for the leading-edge research taking place every day at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
The day offered something for everyone who wanted to enlist in Sylvester’s fight. The physical challenges included the 5K Run/Walk and a cycling routes ranging from 16 to 100 miles. The stadium grounds were filled with tents and displays offering games for kids, educational handouts for their parents, and water, snacks and massages for participants after they crossed the finish line. High-energy music from the stage inspired many to stop in their tracks and dance. The weather was cool and cloudy with an occasional light sprinkle, but the front moving through South Florida put the wind at cyclists’ backs in the home stretch, and nothing dampened the spirits of the determined cancer fighters.
“This is truly an amazing event,” said UM President Julio Frenk, speaking at the colorful green-and-orange Sylvester tent after the cyclists, runners, and walkers completed their personal journeys. “Cancer is a major health challenge, and a disease that is still stigmatized by some people. Fortunately, we are blessed with one of the leading cancer centers in the world. Our team at Sylvester is committed to delivering the best possible care, along with leading-edge research to conquer this disease.”
His wife, Felicia Knaul, Ph.D., professor of public health sciences, director of the Miami Institute for the Americas, and a breast cancer survivor, expressed her pride and gratitude for being both a member of the UM faculty and a Sylvester patient. “We are bringing the best science out of the laboratory and using it to benefit the entire region,” she said.
The sixth annual DCC – now the largest event fundraiser in the National Football League – set a new record, with 3,317 participants. More than $11.5 million has been raised since the DCC’s inception, and several changes have taken place over the past five years. What began as a two-day riding event called the Dolphins Cycling Challenge has evolved into an even more exciting single-day event called the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, with six course options for riders, a 5K run/walk and a live concert featuring top talent. Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge, both breast cancer survivors, performed Saturday. The inaugural DCC Celebrity Golf Tournament will tee off on Monday, April 4, at the Turnberry Isle Resort and Golf Club, and two Family Fun Fests will take place in the fall.
““The DCC continues to gain momentum, helping to accelerate our groundbreaking cancer research,” said Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, after completing the 100-mile Hurricanes Hundred ride.
“The turnout is great, and this incredible support really makes a difference to our research programs,” said Jonathan C. Trent, professor of medicine and co-director of the Musculoskeletal Center at Sylvester’s Sarcoma Medical Research Program, who rode with his wife, Sharon, and their daughter, Mia.
“Two days ago, one of my closest friends lost her mother to cancer, so she was in my thoughts as I ran,” said Pierre-Jacques Hamard, an associate scientist at Sylvester who in ran in the 5K Run/Walk.
DCC participants ranged from infants to seniors, including more than 700 University of Miami students, faculty, and staffers on Team Hurricane. UM’s new head football coach Mark Richt kicked off the Hurricanes Hundred loop.
“It was wonderful to see all the UM shirts as we rode,” said Joe Natoli, senior vice president for business and finance and chief financial officer, after completing the 100-mile route.
Hundreds of members of the Miami Dolphins organization also took part, including new head coach Adam Gase, President and CEO Tom Garfinkel, EVP and Director of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum, and DCC CEO Michael Mandich, as well as retired star players Dan Marino, Nat Moore, and Kim Bokamper, to name a few.
Other high-profile participants included Jorge Perez, chairman of The Related Group and Marc Buoniconti, president of The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis and son of former Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti, all UM trustees, and Paul Castronova, co-host of Big 105.9’s “Paul and Young Ron Show.”
There were also plenty of volunteers from throughout South Florida who helped make the DCC a success, including Miami Dade College students Zedre Knox and Lisa Jean Francois.
“My mother Ruth died from breast cancer, and colon cancer took the life of my grandmother,” said Knox. “By volunteering, I can honor their memory.”
Supporting Family Members
JoAnn Goldberg, president of Sylvester’s volunteer Pap Corps, led a contingent of 215 participants from Palm Beach and Broward counties, including Alicia and Larry Kruger.
“My husband was diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer,” said Alicia Kruger. “He received great treatment at Sylvester’s Deerfield Beach center, and I’m walking today on Larry’s behalf.”
A.J. and Casie Maggio completed the 72-mile Perfect Century ride in honor of their nephew Jovani Joseph “JJ” Maggio, who died in 2014 at age 4 from a childhood cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma.
“We need far more research into pediatric cancers,” said A.J. Maggio, who led off more than 15 participants from Sysco Food Services. “We want to support the cancer community and show everyone that we are strong like JJ.”
David Girard and his son, Dominick, were cheering the boy’s stepmother, Donna, and his sisters, Samantha and Sarah, who were cycling, walking, and running in memory of his mother, Yvonne, who died last November in Canada from throat cancer.
“She was treated and thought to be in remission, but her cancer returned,” David Girard said. “We really need to learn more about this disease.”
That’s the fundamental goal of the DCC, according to W. Jarrard Goodwin, Sylvester’s chief medical officer.
“The funds raised by DCC participants and supporters allow us to conduct a wide range of research projects while serving the community,” he said after his 35-mile ride. “Every year, I ride with my patients, colleagues, family, and friends who recognize the importance of the work we do.”
Later in the afternoon, the DCC came to a close with high-energy musical performances by Crow and Etheridge. Their concert celebration was presented by Pepsi on the Seminole Hard Rock Stage at the AutoNation finish line.
Reflecting on the day, Silvio Restrepo paused for a breath after completing the 5K run in memory of his grandmother, Angela Palacios, who died of skin cancer at age 56 in Honduras.
“This was the first time I took part in the DCC, but it won’t be the last,” he said. “It was very special to see so many people cheering as we headed to the finish line. I want to encourage everyone to join me next year.
The sixth DCC will continue raising funds for Sylvester through March 31; those wishing to make a donation may do so on the DCC website.