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Dolphins Challenge Cancer Raises More than $7 Million to Support Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Thousands of South Floridians take part in the 12th annual community fundraising event

A group of cyclists during a ride.
Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., and Vaughn Edelson, senior project manager in Sylvester’s Office of Education and Training, lead cyclists in the 100-mile ride.

It was a day of tears and hugs, smiles and laughter for thousands of South Floridians who participated in the 12th annual Dolphins Challenge Cancer (DCC 12) on Saturday, February 26, under a sunny sky at Hard Rock Stadium. It was a record day in the number of participants and the money raised for cancer research.

Riding their bicycles, running or walking, nearly 4,500 DCC participants from across the U.S. and the world raised more than $7 million for leading-edge research and treatments at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the only National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated center in South Florida. Since its inception in 2010, the DCC has raised more than $45.5 million even before Saturday’s big event, donating 100% of participant-raised funds to Sylvester.

Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., Sylvester director and holder of the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, completed his tenth consecutive 100-mile ride with Stuart Miller, chair of the UHealth board.

“I’m very proud to see all the researchers, clinicians and staff from Sylvester, and so many patients and their families. I want to express our deepest appreciation to the Miami Dolphins and everyone who has been behind the DCC,” said Dr. Nimer, who is also professor of medicine, biochemistry, and molecular biology, and executive dean for research at the Miller School. “It’s an event we can all be proud of, and the support of this community is unmatched. The most rewarding part is knowing that all the money raised from the DCC directly funds Sylvester’s groundbreaking cancer research and life-saving treatments for patients in our community and region.”

A family posing for a photo.
Sylvester Senior Patient Access Manager Anthony Machado, with daughter Ariel and wife Monica, supported both family and patients.

“I am so pleased we were able to safely come together for this year’s DCC,” said University of Miami President Julio Frenk, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., who kicked off the early morning 35-mile ride from the Watsco Center on the Coral Gables campus. “As president of the university, and the proud husband of a breast cancer fighter, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to every one of you for helping to make this happen.”

The DCC 12 included a 100-mile ride, a 50-mile ride, a 35-mile ride, a 15-mile ride, and the 5K run/walk. Following the five events, participants celebrated at the Finish Line Festival, which featured a band, food and beverages, and children’s play area.

Miami Dolphins Head Coach Mike McDaniel applauded the teamwork of DCC participants at the start of the DCC 5K.

Honoring Family Members

Participants of all ages honored family members whose lives were claimed by cancer, and offered their encouragement and support to survivors of the disease. Nivardo Beaton III completed the 15-mile ride in memory of his father, Nivardo Beaton, Jr., whose life was claimed by cancer. Miami Dolphins cheerleader Olivia Hopkins rode 35 miles to honor the squad’s manager, Johanna Torres, a breast cancer survivor and patient of breast oncologist Carmen Calfa, M.D., who took part in the 5K.

Michele Morris completed the 5K walk to support her mother, Patricia Ross, a leukemia survivor.

“I’ve taken part in the DCC for four years and I love being here,” she said. “Everyone knows someone with cancer, and this event gives so much hope to patients and their families.”

A group of participants and spectators of the ride.
Nivardo Beaton III, center, with, from left, Michelle Beaton, Lucy Beiro and Juani Valdes, completed the 15-mile ride in memory of his father.

Several hundred firefighters from throughout the region also completed the 5K walk in full gear, showing their support for fallen colleagues as part of Sylvester’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative, a national collaborative partnership focused on cancer education, control and prevention strategies.

After crossing the finish line in their events, cancer survivors were encouraged to “ring the bell” celebrating their victories over the disease.

“I am so glad to be here today with my family,” said Joany Rodriguez, who was treated successfully for breast cancer at Sylvester in 2018.

One of the participants finished the 100-mile bike ride and then visited the wall where people had written the names of family and friends who have fought cancer. Seeing all the names, he became emotional when adding the name of his loved one.

Supporting Cancer Patients

Sylvester’s researchers, clinicians and staff members were out in full force, encouraging the DCC riders, runners and walkers, and giving thanks for their support.

A woman ringing a bell.
Cancer survivor Joany Rodriguez rings the bell.

Breast cancer specialist Alejandra Perez, M.D., a medical oncologist at Sylvester at Plantation, said, “We see thousands of women each year, and it is so important to find the most appropriate therapy for each one. We are doing very well with our treatments, but we can always do better, and that requires more research.”

Along with treating patients, Justin W. Taylor, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, conducts research into the molecular aspects of genetic alterations that drive leukemia and other blood cancers.

“The DCC is one of the most important sources of funds for my research into potential new cures,” he said. “As a clinician and scientist, I am inspired by the support Sylvester receives from our community. It motivates me to go back to my lab and try even harder to find new cures for my patients.”

For Anthony Machado, M.S., senior patient access manager, the fight against cancer is personal as well as professional.

“We have lost people in our family to cancer,” he said. “We honor them, while supporting our patients.”

Making an Impact

Major philanthropic foundations and South Florida organizations gave their support to the DCC. The Living Proof Program, presented by the Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation, had participation from 250 cancer survivors. The Lennar Foundation, a legacy partner and one of the event’s largest organizational donors, also stepped up for its eleventh consecutive year to support the DCC.

A group of firefighters participating in the 5k walk.
Hundreds of firefighters completed the 5K walk in full gear as part of Sylvester’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative.

President Frenk thanked the Miami Dolphins Foundation, which organizes the annual event in partnership with the university. “Their support over the past 11 years, having raised $45.5 million for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, is exemplary,” he said. “Last year, they also made an extraordinary $75 million commitment to advance research at Sylvester, for which we are enormously grateful.”

A local bike club, Break the Cycle, more than doubled the number of its participants this year and raised more than $110,000. Many of them were seen crossing the 100-mile finish line.

Reflecting on the day, Javier Sanchez, executive director of Dolphins Challenge Cancer, said, “The need for quality cancer care has never been greater, and we are proud to partner with Sylvester. Over the past 12 years, this special event has created new opportunities for improved cancer treatment in South Florida, to which we thank our incredible partners, participants, and donors.”

Fundraising will continue through March 14. People can donate online.

Tags: Dolphins Challenge Cancer, Dr. Alejandra Perez, Dr. Justin Taylor, Dr. Stephen Nimer, President Julio Frenk, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center