Saturday marked the ending of the Miami Dolphins sixth annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge, where over 3,300 bikers, runners, walkers and volunteers all came together for one purpose: to tackle cancer and raise money for research to find a better cure for this heartbreaking disease.
"The Dolphins Cancer Challenge is about everyone working together to fight cancer,” Miami Dolphins President & CEO and DCC VI Chair Tom Garfinkel said. “100 percent of participant fundraising goes directly to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center for essential cancer research that changes lives."
The event began with a kickoff party Friday evening, where all the participants had their fill of food and got to interact with some of their favorite Miami Dolphins players before the real challenge began before dawn early Saturday morning.
Notable participants included Grand Marshals and Dolphins Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and Head Coach Adam Gase, as well as Dolphins players and alumni such as Dan Marino, Nat Moore, Dick Anderson, A.J. Duhe, Kim Bokamper, Chris Conlin, John Offerdahl, Mark Duper, Michael Thomas and Ndamukong Suh.
While the final count hasn't yet been confirmed, as they'll be collecting money until March 31st, the amount of money raised through the DCC is known to be at least $11.5 million dollars, a staggering number that speaks to just how much of an impact this event has on not only the community of South Florida, but the entire country.
"The first year we had about 300 participants, raised a little more than a half a million dollars," said Michael Mandich, the CEO of the Dolphins Cancer Challenge and son of Dolphins great Jim "Mad Dog" Mandich, who lost his battle against cancer back in 2011. "Fast forward to today, where we're embarking on our sixth DCC, now called the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, which has grown immensely in such a short period of time, raising over $11.5 million dollars for cancer research, becoming the largest fundraising event in the NFL and beyond."
Since 2010, the event has been steadily growing in size and success, bringing in Dolphins fans and bikers who originate from as far away as Ohio, and with a variety as wide as even having former Olympic medalists taking part in the cause.
"We always like to give back to the community and arrive like this where it ties back to cancer," said former Olympic silver medalist Lauren Tamayo, who participated in the cycling portion on behalf of United Healthcare. "I personally don't have anybody close to me who has suffered from cancer, but I do have friends and family who of course - I think everybody has one step or connection to cancer and every story is a heartfelt story."
One such individual with a heartfelt story is Luis Navarro, who is an attorney and has been a part of DCC since its very inception. He now acts as a member of the DCC board of advisers.
"One of the things I take great pride in participating in the DCC was the first year I participated in DCC One, it was the year my father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he passed." he said. "So the second year I decided to really get involved, because I saw firsthand what Sylvester does for families and how they help people who are being treated."
As the sole beneficiary of the funds raised by the DCC, Sylvester and University of Miami had over 800 participants taking part in it, and ever since the event's initial inception, the funds raised have been making a huge impact in cancer research at Sylvester.
"The funds from this ride and from years past have directly funded a new clinical trial that we have for patients whose cancers have recurred, and we're coming up with news ways to treat them both with surgery and therapy and other things," said Dr. Donald Weed, a Professor in Otolaryngology. "Without the money from the DCC, getting that trial started wouldn't have happened."
At the end of the ride, attendants were treated to a fair day with food, bounce houses, a petting zoo, and The Native Village Road Show came out and brought animals indigenous to the Everglades and other places for children to learn about, such as parrots, snakes and alligators.
As for the riders, they were treated to something special, as a massage tent was available for DCC participants to heal up their aching muscles after a long day of riding, running or walking for miles on end.
And to top it all off, for the first time in DCC history, a crowd of over 5,000 were treated to a performance by Grammy-Award winning artists Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow, both of whom have defeated different forms of cancer that they personally suffered through themselves.
“It was an honor to play in front of thousands of cancer fighters today,” Sheryl Crow said. “The electric atmosphere at the stadium, surrounded by people all united for one cause – what an amazing day.”
But the Dolphins' battle against cancer isn't over just yet. The DCC will continue raising funds for cancer research with its inaugural DCC Celebrity Golf Tournament hosted by Turnberry Isle Resort & Golf Club on April 4, 2016, where cancer fighters will get a chance to golf and interact with athletes and other celebrity guests.
In one way, shape or form, we have all been touched by cancer at some point in our lives. It's taken away loved ones, or the loved of our loved ones. For the Dolphins to build up an event that has grown to become what it is now speaks to the necessity to continue striving towards new ways to defeat this disease.
Michael Mandich stated that he would eventually like for the DCC to become one of the biggest fund-raising events in the entire country, and if it continues growing at this pace, it may surpass that goal in the very-near future. But for that to happen, it will take all of us to get involved and make that goal come to fruition.
And in turn, that could very well be the goal that will change the world as we know it.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
Video Credit: Miami Dolphins
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