In years past, the Miami Dolphins Cancer Challenge has become a staple of cancer research fundraising, so much so that the event has grown to become the largest of its kind in not just the National Football League, but in all of professional sports, a milestone that the organization could not be more proud of.
"I think that just shows you how great the Miami Dolphins' commitment to the community is," said senior vice president of special projects and alumni relations and former Dolphins WR Nat Moore. "The fact that we are the biggest fundraiser in the NFL, the fact that the Miami Dolphins are able to partner with the University of Miami and their medical facilities, I mean it shows you the collaboration of what can be done when people put their minds together for the same cause.
"And we just think it's going to continue to grow, we're patterned after another event, and we've seen what they've been able to do over a period of time, so hopefully as they grow, we'll continue to grow, and hopefully one day we'll be able to catch and surpass them."
In just eight years, the Dolphins Cancer Challenge has managed to raise over $22 million dollars, with every cent of that money being donated to the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in South Florida, all for the sake of cancer research and finally finding a way to end the tragic disease once and for all.
While the event itself has not changed much in recent years, the Miami Dolphins did place more emphasis on survivors this year, putting the focus on those who have fought the disease and won, and everyone who has done so has a story of inspiration to share.
"My story was very scary," said Camille Moses, who is on the patient and family advisory council at Sylvester. "I came to Sylvester with stage four pancreatic cancer, and I am today - after 17 months of chemo - I'm cancer free since July of 2013. I was very scared, because my mother died of pancreatic cancer when I was only 24, so I knew I was in big trouble. But then what happened was I came to Sylvester and I got the best treatment, and I'm alive, strong and healthy and here to do DCC, my third one."
Over 250 of the 4,000 DCC participants are cancer survivors themselves, and there was a large turnout of Dolphins players who came out to show their support, including defensive end Andre Branch, whose stepmother is a survivor of breast cancer.
Then there's former Dolphins wide receiver and legend Mark Duper, who himself is also a cancer survivor.
"Every year I try to make this run," said Duper. "It puts a toll on my body, but you know that's something special. I try to participate because it's for a good cause. Sylvester saved my life, I really believe that."
Duper went on to say that when he was first diagnosed with cancer in his kidney, the first thought that came to him was his immediate family.
"My first reaction was I thought about my immediate family, my kids, and I thought about my other significants, I just really thought about all the people I was going to leave behind." he said. "I didn't think negative about it, I just thought positive about it, said it is what it is, let's just see what I can do to prevent it and let's just see what I can do to keep my life going."
Duper underwent surgery and the rest was history, but there are so many other stories that don't have that happy ending, and that's why the Dolphins are continuing to do this challenge year after year, putting more and more effort into it just like the late Jim 'Mad Dog' Mandich would have done.
The event technically began on Friday night, with the kickoff party at Hard Rock Stadium. Then on Saturday morning, the over 4,000 cancer fighters took off from distances ranging from 14 to 100 miles from five different points in South Florida - the Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University in Davie; Esplanade Park in Fort Lauderdale; the Watsco Center in Coral Gables; Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton; and of course Hard Rock Stadium itself.
As participants began to trickle into the stadium, the atmosphere grew steadily until it was time for the finale event, where riders and guests alike were treated to a full concert from Big Head Todd and the Monsters, as well as the Goo Goo Dolls.
Fittingly enough, both bands have also been touched by cancer.
"I can't talk specifically about who in my family it is because I don't think they would appreciate it, but to sit in the car with her and for two hours driving to the hospital or the treatment center and watching her get better has just been an amazing thing," said the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls, John Rzeznik. "The treatments have come so far so fast. To know that people now can get cancer and they can get treated and then go on with their lives is pretty amazing. Pretty amazing to see how fast how things are growing."
And that growth is, of course, in large part thanks to the contribution that the Dolphins make each and every year to the cause.
"This is just a tremendously important event for cancer research and the Dolphins' involvement makes it really special," said Dr. Edward Abraham, the CEO of UHealth. "We couldn't do it without them. The funds that we raise with this event touch every aspect of cancer care, from the research and discovery efforts to treating patients, helping their families, supporting them and reaching out to our communities. It's really very, very special. It couldn't be duplicated without the help of the Dolphins."
It is no secret that the Miami Dolphins are one of the most - if not the most - involved teams in all of professional sports when it comes to making the world a better place. With all of the advancements in cancer treatment that has come about thanks to their efforts, the number of victims has fallen while the number of survivors have increased; with any luck, soon cancer will be nothing but more than a painful memory.
Until then, we can all celebrate the many survivors who are now taking their experience and helping others fight their battles, spreading the word that if they can do it, anyone can do it.
Perhaps it was Big Head Todd and the Monsters guitarist Jeremy Lawton who put it best: "It's hard to find someone who doesn't have a cancer story or survivor story or have a six-degree connection to a cancer story. It's easy to find a survivor."
And we call all be grateful for that.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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