Dan Marino’s name is securely mounted on the Dolphins Honor Roll at Sun Life Stadium and the Hall-of-Fame quarterback’s memorable accomplishments on the field still resonate. But today was all about the cause Marino has championed off the field for more than two decades.
With the sun still rising over the stadium, Marino and Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland addressed the media before the start of the third Dan Marino Foundation WalkAbout Autism Event. The walk has raised more than $1.4 million through the help of sponsors like Walgreens and with an estimated 20,000 people following Marino and Ireland around the stadium, that figure is certain to increase.
“It’s about the kids and their families and everybody that’s out there raising a bunch of money, with all of it going back into the community,” Marino said. “It goes to grassroots programs that are going to help kids firsthand and that’s what’s great about the program that we have today and the walk. We’ve come a long way because more people understand the process and have seen a lot more kids and how they’ve developed over the years. The professionals in this area, the doctors, understand a lot more about the process of treating kids with developmental disabilities.”
It’s been 22 years since Marino’s son Michael was diagnosed with autism and he has been at the forefront of the fight to help other families ever since. Michael, 24, has begun a musical career as DJ One-Tre, a disc jockey spinning the hits with a familiar flair. His moniker is meant to honor his father, whose No. 13 jersey was retired by the Dolphins.
Ireland’s 17-year-old twin daughters, Haley and Hannah, also are highly functional after having been diagnosed at a very young age. Both he and Marino emphasized the importance of being able to catch the signs early and be directed to the appropriate physician or treatment center, especially with one in 88 children being diagnosed with autism.
“The most important thing is that there are organizations that can direct these families to the absolute right programs,” Ireland said. “You don’t have to buy a bunch of snake oil to try and help your child, which is what these families did in the past.”
In addition to the Dan Marino Foundation, which has raised over $33 million since its inception in 1992, proceeds from the event will benefit the Autism Societies of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties and the UM-NSU CARD (Center for Autism & Related Disabilities). There were also 300 area schools participating, with 25 percent of the money raised by their teams going to support special needs programming in their respective schools.
Head Coach Joe Philbin and his wife, Diane, and current and former Dolphins players were on hand to participate in the walk. Among those players showing their support for Marino, Ireland and the cause were kicker
“It’s great to give back to the community, especially in this way, and it’s not easy raising kids in that state,” said Vernon, who was participating for the first time as a Dolphin. “I’ve seen it firsthand and for those parents to be able to take that challenge on, it’s a big challenge and I’m trying to have fun today and help this walk help them.”
There also was a solid alumni representation, led by O.J. McDuffie and Jim Jensen.
Carpenter has done the walk all three times now and feels very passionate about what it’s all about.
“Autism is something that if you don’t have someone directly that you now that it’s affecting you definitely know someone indirectly,” Carpenter said. “For us through Jeff and through Dan, we see people who are directly affected by it and it’s something that’s spreading worldwide. So it’s great to be able to come out and help raise some money and hopefully find better treatments for it and promote early intervention and diagnosis.”
When Ireland and his family arrived in South Florida five years ago from Dallas, they didn’t know anyone with knowledge of where to send their daughters for treatment. Thanks to Marino, he was able to find the CARD center at Nova-Southeastern and he and his wife immersed themselves in the autism community.
Partnering with Marino three years ago in this walk was a no-brainer for Ireland and he remains passionate about keeping the cause in the public’s sights.
“We’ve got to continue to grow the awareness because autism is not slowing down, it’s increasing,” Ireland said. “So the fact that we’re able to make a very small impression on the community that this matters is incredible. We’re trying to affect this community and raise money for the organizations that really helped us with this walk and help other families in the same situation we found ourselves in.”