Third Dolphins Cycling Challenge Supports Cancer Research and Care at Sylvester

With the massive walls of Sun Life Stadium casting a cooling shadow over them, J. David Pitcher Jr., M.D., and Lazaro Cordero grew jubilant with every turn of their bike pedals. Their 30-mile trek from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami was over, and as they raced into the stadium down a welcoming path lined with cheering spectators, the two couldn’t help but raise their arms triumphantly, joyous smiles adorning their sweat-covered faces.

Hundreds of riders preceded them at the finish, but of the many who completed the last two stages of this year’s Dolphins Cycling Challenge on November 4, this pair stood out. Pitcher, professor of orthopaedics at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, completed the journey on a three-wheel recumbent bicycle—towing Cordero, his 17-year-old patient who lost a leg to osteosarcoma, the entire way.

“It was great to be a part of this,” Cordero, a junior at South Dade High School, said of the third Dolphins Cycling Challenge (DCC), a two-day event covering 170 miles that raises funds for Sylvester’s lifesaving research and treatment programs. “It was a long, tough ride, but Dr. Pitcher made it easy, telling a lot of jokes to keep up my spirit.”

Covering three counties and featuring rides of different lengths, the cycling challenge was started in honor of former Miami Dolphins tight end Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich, who was treated at Sylvester for bile duct cancer before succumbing to the disease in April 2011 at the age of 62.

More than 2,000 participants, many of them riding in memory of a loved one affected by cancer, took to the road or were virtual riders in this year’s event, which hopes to raise more than $2 million. Fundraising efforts have already reached $1 million, and donations are being accepted through Nov. 18. With almost 500 UM employees and students taking part as either physical or virtual riders, Team Sylvester and Team UM have already accounted for more than $320,000 of that total.

In the cool, early-morning darkness that eventually gave way to clear skies and warm temperatures, the event got under way on November 3 from Sun Life Stadium as hundreds of riders set out for either a 30-mile journey to Miami Beach or a 100-mile ride to West Palm Beach, where they would stay overnight.

Sunday was the climactic event for riders cycling 70 miles as they returned from West Palm or those completing a 30-mile trek from Fort Lauderdale. The first group came into Sun Life Stadium just after noon, a wave of supporters cheering them on as the riders’ entrance was aired on the stadium’s jumbo screen. The Miami Dolphins were on the road against the Indianapolis Colts on this Sunday.

Team Sylvester was made up of scores of faculty, students and staff, including Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., who said, “We could not be prouder of the team effort that went into this year’s Dolphins Cycling Challenge.” Dean Goldschmidt rode all 170 miles, just as he did last year. “From the survivors who participated to those who rode for loved ones, it was a big success in supporting cancer research at Sylvester. It is this commitment that propels our work to save more lives. I’m sure that this South Florida tradition will continue for years to come.”

Riding the 170 miles for the first time was the newly appointed Director of Sylvester, Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., who called this year’s cycling challenge “a tremendous success.” Nimer added that “Sylvester has set an aggressive agenda that will allow us to develop and expand our clinical programs, and recruit more outstanding physicians and scientists devoted to research. This is all possible because of the DCC!”

UM Trustee Stuart A. Miller led Team Lennar, and Joe Natoli, senior vice president for business and finance and chief financial officer, rode for Team UM.

Lesley Klein, a registered dietitian at Sylvester at Deerfield Beach, rode for “all my patients.” She took up cycling only six weeks ago just to ride in the challenge. One of her patients, Anthony Jewell, a survivor of esophageal cancer, greeted her at the finish line.

Laura Freedman, M.D., the director of radiation oncology at Sylvester at Deerfield Beach, later joined them. She rode in Sunday’s 30-mile leg, borrowing a friend’s bike and practicing “just a bit” to prepare. “Cycling is not my sport, but I got out there to ride because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

For the second year in a row, the Sunday finale was held in conjunction with Sylvester’s Cancer Survivors Day Event, a gathering of people from all walks of life who have defeated cancer with the help of Sylvester physicians. Some wore pink, the color of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Others wore white T-shirts with the word “Survivor” printed on the back. They sat at tables with husbands, wives, sons and daughters, taking in the festivities and then rising from their seats to welcome and cheer riders arriving at the stadium.

“The money raised will help others as well as help find a cure for cancer,” UM President Donna E. Shalala told them.

Jayne Sylvester Malfitano, vice chair of Sylvester’s Board of Governors whose father, Harcourt Sylvester Jr., first pledged $27.5 million to UM to build a cancer center, also addressed survivors.

Among the survivors: Joan Scheiner, chair of Sylvester’s Board of Governors. A 16-year survivor of leiomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue, Scheiner sat at a table on Sunday with her husband David and recounted the day when she received her cancer diagnosis.

“I felt like my world had stopped and was spinning out of control,” said the 61-year-old mother of two adult sons and two granddaughters. “But from the very beginning, I knew that I was going to make it if I found the right doctors.”

The Miller School’s Pasquale Benedetto, M.D., professor of medicine, became her oncologist. “I put my trust and faith in him,” Scheiner said. She underwent chemotherapy and endured several surgeries, and today is cancer free.

“Our partnership with the Dolphins has created not only funds but also enormous awareness of the world-class cancer center we have right here in Miami,” Scheiner said. “And when you’re sick, there’s no place like home.”

When it was time for the first group of riders to arrive, Scheiner got up from her table, walking toward the front of the stadium tunnel, as she has done every year, to welcome the riders. “I never thought I’d see my kids grow to be men,” she said. “In most other places, being just a doctor would be enough. But at Sylvester their commitment runs deep. It’s a true partnership.”

Sitting only a few tables from Scheiner was Annie Anderson, a kindergarten teacher in the Miami-Dade Public Schools system, who was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago and underwent two surgeries. Eating cupcakes topped with pink icing, Anderson and her daughters, Adrienne and Rashauna, watched from afar as riders continued to enter the stadium. It was important for them to be there. “We wanted to celebrate our mom’s recovery in hopes that some day there’ll be a cure,” said Adrienne.

Then, it was Dr. Pitcher and Cordero’s turn to enter the stadium. “Lazaro is like any other of my patients who’s got a story of friends and family supporting him, and I just wanted to be one of his supporters,” said Pitcher. “He’s a young man with a bright future and all the world ahead of him.”

Cordero will soon receive his prosthetic leg, and plans to return for the 2013 DCC—riding his own bicycle.

Follow this link for more pictures of the event.

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