NFL’s No. 1 Fundraising Event Draws Largest-Ever Turnout with 5,500-Plus Participants
Under sunny skies, 5,641 cyclists, runners, walkers and volunteers collectively raised more than $10 million at the 13th annual Dolphins Challenge Cancer (DCC XIII) to support Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth – University of Miami Health System and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. It was a record-setting day as cancer survivors, family members and friends honored loved ones lost to the deadly disease, while supporting leading-edge research that offers hope for the future.
“I want to thank the Miami Dolphins and everyone in this incredible community who participated in DCC XIII,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester, Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, and executive dean for research at the Miller School. “Thirteen years ago, no one could have predicted that this event would resonate so much with our community and bring such immense benefit to Sylvester. Together, we have built world-leading research teams that are making enormous advances in the prevention and treatment of many cancers.”
The DCC XIII included a 100-mile ride — which included Dr. Nimer and Stuart Miller, member and past chair of the University of Miami Board of Trustees and chair of the UHealth Board of Directors — as well as a 55-mile ride, a 35-mile ride, a 15-mile ride, and the 5K run/walk, followed by a family-friendly festival with music, food and beverages, and children’s play activities.
As the NFL’s largest fundraising event, the DCC XIII surpassed last year’s totals of 4,484 participants and $8.4 million in funds, 100% of which are donated to Sylvester, the only National Cancer Institute-designated center in South Florida. The Dolphins have now raised more than $60 million of a $75 million commitment toward the common goal of challenging cancer and supporting those impacted by cancer. As Tom Garfinkel, vice chairman, president and CEO of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, said at the start of the 15-mile cycling event, “You don’t have to have cancer to fight cancer.”
Importance of DCC Funds to Sylvester
Sylvester’s clinicians and researchers understand the importance of DCC participant-raised funds in the fight against cancer. “We use this money in a variety of ways to advance our research and support our patients,” said lymphoma specialist Craig Moskowitz, M.D., professor and physician-in-chief, oncology service line. “Our team is interested in developing high-tech nuclear medicine imaging to determine the most beneficial types of treatment for lymphoma patients. That’s just one aspect of Sylvester’s commitment to precision medicine. We are working to lead the effort to deliver targeted therapy for patients with lung, breast, prostate, pancreas and other types of cancers.”
DCC funds are vital for supporting early-stage cancer research projects, according to Chukwuemeka Ikpeazu, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., an associate professor who specializes in lung, head and neck, and thyroid cancers at Sylvester at Deerfield Beach. “The application process for large federal research grants is very competitive, and being able to show positive preliminary results is very important,” he said. “These funds also enable our young faculty to jump-start their research careers, which is critical to the future of the ongoing battle against cancer.”
Along with raising funds, the DCC provides an annual opportunity for Sylvester’s professionals to reconnect with cancer patients and caregivers. “For me, participation in the DCC is inseparable from my dedication to help our patients,” said Dr. Ikpeazu. “I want to do all I can, every day, to help eradicate cancer.”
That dedication is shared by other Sylvester physicians including Carmen Calfa, M.D., a breast cancer medical oncologist and medical co-director for the survivorship program at Sylvester. “I’ve been the captain for Team Hurricanes Breast Cancer Plantation for many years,” she said. “I love DCCing with our community, as we raise awareness, cheer our patients, and bring hope to everyone. The DCC truly represents Sylvester’s vision, goals and mission.”
Jessica MacIntyre, D.N.P., M.B.A., A.P.R.N., executive director of clinical operations and oncology nurse practitioner at Sylvester, wholeheartedly agrees. “The DCC brings our community together to support advancing cancer research in South Florida and abroad,” she said. “I have heard the stories from our patients and families about the impact Sylvester’s care has provided in their cancer journey. They participate in the DCC not just for what we have done, but for the hope of what more we can do to get to a cure.”
Why DCC Participants Walk, Run and Ride
After volunteering at the DCC for several years, Iliana Suarez and her husband Nelson took part in the 5K run/walk as part of the “Believe in You – You Are Living Proof” training program team. The new program is designed to help cancer survivors and their spouses prepare for the DCC and live a healthier lifestyle. After a mammogram and ultrasound identified a breast malignancy in 2018, Suarez was treated at Sylvester and is now cancer free, giving her more time to spend with their children and grandchildren. “From the moment, I stepped into Sylvester, I was treated with care and respect,” she said. “It’s like a family, as the doctors and nurses are filled with love for their patients.”
For many parents, participating in the DCC holds a special meaning. After losing his son Sebastian to cancer, Oscar Ortiz founded the Sebastian Strong Foundation to support Sylvester’s research. “In the last 40 to 45 years, there have been six drugs developed for kids with cancer, while there have been hundreds for adults,” he said. “Kids deserve better.”
Among the DCC XIII participants were dozens of first responders who walked the 5K after attending the 2023 International Firefighter Cancer Symposium, a February 23-24 conference organized by Sylvester’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative team. Among South Florida family members taking part in the 5K were Katherine Bernardoni, who honored the memory of her mother, Evelyn; and Mia Ross, Tia Ross and Michel Morris who showed support for their mother, Patricia Ross, a leukemia survivor.
Before their rides, runs or walks, many participants took time to write the names of their loved ones on an oversized whiteboard under the heading, “I’m fighting for…” After completing their events, cancer survivors “rang the bell,” to symbolize Sylvester’s lifesaving care.
Reflecting on the lasting impact of the DCC, Rebecca Carrasco, a UM contract and grants analyst, and her husband David, UM general building maintenance specialist, cited the importance of finding new treatments and cures for cancer. “We need research to make advances in the worldwide fight against cancer,” she said. “It’s great to be able to raise funds for Sylvester at such a very cool event!”
DCC XIII’s Major Contributors Fuel Its Success
Major contributors to the success of DCC XIII were generous donations from Harris Philanthropies, the Lennar Corporation and The Papanicolaou Corps for Cancer Research. The 100-mile ride, presented by UKG; 55-mile ride; 35-mile ride, presented by Robins & Morton; 15-mile ride, presented by Aetna; and the DCC 5K, presented by Amazon, all ended at the Mad Dog Finish Line, presented by AutoNation DRV PNK.
To conclude the event, participants celebrated at the Finish Line Festival. Heavy Hitters, those who surpassed a fundraising goal of $3,000, had access to a special VIP area presented by Berkowitz Pollack Brant & Provenance Wealth Advisors. More than 300 cancer survivors joined the festivities through the Living Proof Program, presented by Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation. The Lennar Foundation, a legacy partner and one of the event’s largest organizational donors, stepped up for its 12th consecutive year to support the DCC.
For more information, visit www.DolphinsChallengeCancer.com.