It wasn’t long after he had finished his 14-mile bike ride that Dolphins Cancer Challenge participant John Monteleone was brought onto the Ultimate Finish Line stage at Hard Rock Stadium to share his personal story.
Monteleone explained he was able to raise more than $50,000 for the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center through a family effort that included his children, his sisters, his nieces, his nephews, pointing out that everybody got together to honor his father, Nick, who died of cancer a couple of years ago.
Then it was time to explain why he did the 14-mile ride from the Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University instead of the 52-mile ride from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton he had planned on doing.
In the process, Monteleone perfectly summed up why the Dolphins host the DCC every year and why more than 5,000 participants were involved in the ninth edition of the event Saturday.
A minor car accident in November sent Monteleone to see an orthopedic surgeon friend and an MRI revealed a mass in his back. A little more than a week later, he had a kidney removed after it was discovered he had kidney cancer.
“Thank God it was all contained within the kidney,” Monteleone said. “It had no spreading and that’s the best news that I can get. So we always hope that any of the funds and all the hard work and all the efforts that we do here, and all the hundreds that participate in the Dolphins Cancer Challenge get those kinds of results because the only thing I can tell you the doctors kept saying to me was, ‘You’re going to be fine and you’re going to lead a normal life and you’re going to grow to be an old man.’
“I think that’s all we ever want to do when we’ve got this horrible disease is be an old person that survived it.”
There were plenty of other stories like that of Monteleone among the participants in DCC IX, whether they were survivors, folks honoring the memory of a loved one lost to the disease, or people wanting to show their support for someone fighting cancer right now.
While the stories or the reasons for participating might have been different, the goal was the same: raise funds for the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to continue its research in the hopes of one day eradicating this disease.
“It’s been a great day,” said Jennifer Jehn, Senior Vice President of the Miami Dolphins Foundation and the Dolphins Cancer Challenge. “It’s a great day to fight cancer, it’s a great day for raise money. That’s the big why we’re here and we’re really grateful and proud of all the community of Miami and Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach that come out year after year and support this. And 100 percent of the funds that we raise go directly to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Research is expensive. Research saves lives. And we’re committed to giving patients their life back.”
After a Kickoff Party on Friday night, DCC IX started before the sun came up Saturday with the 100-mile bike ride starting at Hard Rock Stadium. The ride from Boca Raton started at 7:30 a.m., followed by a 35-mile ride from the Watsco Center on the campus of the University of Miami at 8:15 a.m., the 25-mile ride from the Dolphins’ training facility at 10 a.m., and finally the 5K Run/Walk, which began at 10:30 a.m.
All roads led back to Hard Rock Stadium, where the tennis campus used for the Miami Open was turned into a festival area, complete with two stages, a petting zoo, carnival games, a bounce house, a giant slide, and more.
“We’re really proud of the tennis campus out here, so we were really able to leverage this and turn it more into a fun, family festival celebration to celebrate our survivors, our partners,” Jehn said. “It’s really about the community coming together for a really great cause.”
The Dolphins have organized the event since it began in 2010, but they had a bigger presence than ever this year.
Current players Kenny Stills, Raekwon McMillan, Zach Sterup and Walt Aikens, sporting futuristic sunglasses that made him stand out, took part in the Dolphins Ride presented by the Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation that began in Davie, along with a group of alumni that included Kim Bokamper, Chris Chambers, Chris Conlin, Shawn Wooden, Channing Crowder, Troy Drayton, Troy Stradford, Sean Hill, Don McNeal, Tony Nathan, Louis Oliver, Jed Weaver and cancer survivor Mark Duper.
Before that ride began, Owner Stephen Ross and Vice Chairman/President/CEO Tom Garfinkel both addressed the participants.
“I made a commitment when I bought the team,” Ross said, “that we would do everything we could to help this community and all of you make that possible.”
Said Garfinkel: “You don’t have to have cancer to fight cancer. Every one of you out here today is a cancer fighter. Every one of us here I’m sure has been affected by cancer some way in your life. I have with a family member and everyone will, if you haven’t, at some point. So being out here fighting career is important. Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami is one of the best cancer centers in the country now. We’re proud to have raised a lot of money. We continue to raise more money today.”
McMillan was riding for the memory of his grandfather, who died of throat cancer in 2012.
The Dolphins players didn’t just ride their bike, they spent time talking to participants to hear their stories.
After greeting participants at the finish line last year, Stills decided to ride after getting himself a Peloton exercise bike a few months ago.
“I like to support the majority of causes, use the platform I have to try and shed a light on the issues and tying to help the research and try to generate funds,” Stills said. “It’s pretty special what we do here as an organization — all of our events, honestly, and this is a big one. It’s great to see all the people come out and the support we have.”
Other Dolphins players took part in the 5K Walk/Run, including guard/tackle Jesse Davis and punter Matt Haack. Tackle Sam Young, who has spent the past three seasons with the Dolphins but currently is an unrestricted free agent, is a DCC Board Member and also took part in the event.
Several players contributed to the festivities by signing autographs for participants. Those included Jason Sanders, John Denney, Kiko Alonso, Akeem Spence, Isaac Asiata, Jonathan Woodard, Jakeem Grant and Davon Godchaux.
Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders also were on hand at Hard Rock Stadium; they cycled, took part in the 5k and were virtual riders.
Head Coach Brian Flores spoke to participants to thank them and shared the cancer battle of his mother, who passed away five weeks ago.
“Seeing this many people and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and everything you guys do to fight cancer, it really means the world to me,” Flores said. “My mom, she was battling cancer for the last three years and five weeks ago today she passed away. That’s why I’m here. I’ve got a busy schedule. I have a lot to do. We’ve got draft, players, team meetings, I’ve got a lot on my plate. But I’m going to make time for this foundation and the things that you guys do.
“I want to say I’m proud of the people who came up today and said they’re in remission, that they beat cancer. But I also want to thank the families and the people who support them because I know what that’s like. That’s tough and that’s hard. I want to tell you guys out there who are supporting your family members or friends with cancer that we support you also.
“My mom, before she passed, she said, ‘You do everything you can to help people who are dealing with this or anything else.’ And that’s what we’re here for. We’re here for service. We’re here to serve people. That’s what we should be doing. We’re going to keep fighting it. Keep running, keep riding, keep biking, walking, whatever you can do, let’s do it to help to fight cancer.”
The bike riders, runners and walkers Saturday included folks of all ages, shapes and sizes, from babies from carries in strollers in the 5K Walk to the 6-foot-9 Sterup straddling his bike at the Dolphins training facility.
The bikes also came in a wide variety, from mountain bikes to road bikes, small tires to big tires. At least one cyclist was wearing a GoPro to document his ride.
Bike riders included a large number of corporate teams, such as the Miami Dolphins, the University of Miami, FPL, Bank of America, Chase Roofing, Lennar Foundation, Keyes, Carnival and Walgreens.
The 5K Walk/Run featured a group of firefighters, some of them in full gear to pay tribute to their colleagues who died of cancer. After the walk, they presented a giant ax to Sylvester associate director Dr. Erin Kobetz, for her work with the Firefighter Cancer Initiative.
Along with those pushing strollers during the 5K Walk/Run, there was a father with a boy on his shoulders. The bikers included a few hauling people with special needs behind them.
To borrow a sports cliché, it was a team effort all around, everybody doing their part to chip in.
“It’s called the Challenge for a reason, right?” Jehn said. “We had over 200 people do 100 miles. It’s hot. It’s Miami. It’s always hot depending on what time of the year you do it. That’s a big challenge. But it’s also a challenge for people to walk or run 5K. So they take the challenge. But I do believe in their heart of hearts that they all know that that challenge is nothing compared to what a cancer patient go through in their struggle and their challenge to find cures and their families. They know that, so it makes the challenge even more important and more relevant and more meaningful to them.”
As of late Saturday afternoon, funds raised for DCC IX were approaching $4 million, which would push the total generated since the start of the program to more than $31 million.
But the fundraising for DCC IX didn’t stop with the bike ride and walk/run, and Jehn was expecting the total raised to rival last year’s figure of $5.079 million.
“This is the most important day of the year for us because this is the day we actually gather funds, raise funds, so we can do cancer research that is going to be curing cancer five to 10 years from now,” said Gilberto Lopes, medical doctor and researcher at Sylvester. “So we need the support from all of you guys in our community so we can continue doing this.
“We already have made so many strides in the last five years. There are new treatments. And our cancer-fighting cells. We are seeing so many new developments over the last few years. I'm sure there are going to be many cancers we are going to be able to cure.”
This was the goal when the Dolphins Cycling Challenge was launched in 2010 as the signature event of the Miami Dolphins Foundation after former tight end and longtime radio analyst Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich was diagnosed with bile duct cancer.
The name eventually was changed to Dolphins Cancer Challenge, but the mission has never deviated.
Mandich passed away in 2011, but his memory lives on. Nat Moore, Mandich’s former teammate and now the Dolphins Senior Vice President of Special Projects and Alumni Relations, referenced him when he talked about how he first got involved with the DCC.
Moore says he’s always thinking about Mandich — along with other family members and friends who were affected by cancer — whenever it’s DCC time.
“He would be very proud because one of his goals was at some point to have one of the best cancer-fighting centers right here in our community,” Moore said. “What we’ve been able to do in his name has been phenomenal and it’s only going to get better.”
The DCC indeed has become a major player in the medical field through the years since the inaugural event raised $533,000.
The numbers have gradually increased since then, both in terms of participants and funds raised.
Jehn is excited when she thinks about the future of the DCC and where it’s headed.
“Big! It’s going to get bigger and bigger,” she says. “Where it needs to go is we need to continue to raise more and more money every year. We’ll come up with new ways to make the event better, which I think is a benefit of having us here — it’s called the Dolphins Cancer Challenge obviously, aligned with the Dolphins and now tennis. But it’s really about setting big goals to raise more money.”