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Iconic Sports Figures Gather to Raise Funds for Spinal Cord Injury Research

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    Nick Buoniconti, left, and his son Marc, center, are surrounded by honorees and leaders at the 28th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner.

    Nick Buoniconti, left, and his son Marc, center, are surrounded by honorees and leaders at the 28th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner.

    Donations totaling $3.2 million from two well-known philanthropists will help fund a new round of human Schwann cell clinical trials as well as provide much-needed support for spinal cord injury research at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

    The impromptu gifts were made September 30 during the 28th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York—an event at which some of the greatest sports legends of our time joined celebrities, corporate leaders, and others to help raise funds for the comprehensive spinal cord injury research center dedicated to finding a cure to paralysis.

    Philanthropist Stewart Rahr donated $2.2 million to fund clinical trials for ten patients with chronic spinal cord injuries, while Outback Steakhouse founder Tim Gannon generously donated $1 million in support of spinal cord injury research. Gannon also gave $1 million last year.

    NFL Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti, his son Marc, and event chair Mark Dalton hosted the event. It was Nick Buoniconti who in 1985, along with Barth A. Green, professor and chair of the Miller School’s Department of Neurological Surgery, founded The Miami Project after his son sustained a spinal cord injury during a college football game.

    The dinner not only benefits The Buoniconti Fund the Cure Paralysis, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project, but also honors philanthropic heroes and sports icons who inspire and motivate those affected by spinal cord injuries.

    Bob Costas, NBC Sports Anchor, served as master of ceremonies of the dinner. Among the iconic sports figures in attendance: Terry Bradshaw, the former quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers who won four Super Bowls; James Worthy, who won three NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers; Dave Winfield, a former Major League Baseball outfielder who won a World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992; golfing great Nick Faldo, who won three British Open Championships and three Masters; American gymnast Shawn Johnson, the 2008 Olympic balance beam gold medalist; jockey Gary Stevens, who has won every Triple Crown race; American drag racer Antron Brown, who won the 2012 Top Fuel National Hot Rod Association Championship; and former women’s basketball player and coach Teresa Edwards, who won four gold medals in Olympic competition.

    Jim Kelly, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and four-time AFC champion with the Buffalo Bills, received the 2013 Inspiration Award. Two-time NBA champion player and NBA TV analyst Kenny Smith was honored with The 2013 Buoniconti Fund Award.

    “This year The Miami Project conducted the first-ever FDA-approved human Schwann cell transplantations in acute spinal cord injury patients. This historic moment could not have happened without the funds raised each year at the annual Great Sports Legends Dinner,” said Nick Buoniconti. “The continued passionate support for The Buoniconti Fund and The Miami Project means a great deal to our mission to find a cure for paralysis.”

    Since its inception in 1985, the Great Sports Legends Dinner has honored nearly 300 sports legends and honorees and has raised millions for The Miami Project’s research programs.

    Additional notables in attendance included NFL Hall of Famer Harry Carson, NHL Hall of Famer Brian Leetch, Grammy-winning producer and musician Emilio Estefan, Olympian Gary Hall Jr., Friday Night Lights’ Brad Leland, Gossip Girl’s Matthew Settle, NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, three-time NBA champion Bruce Bowen, actor Colin Egglesfield from Something Borrowed and The Client List, former Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler, and many more.

    The live auction offered a unique opportunity to golf with the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus; a one-of-a-kind FIFA World Cup Package; an Iconic New York Package presented by Tiffany & Co.; a Notre Dame football package; and a Masters Golf experience.

    Sponsors for the evening were HBO Sports, Tiffany & Co., Diageo, United Airlines, and Barton G.

    For more information about The Buoniconti Fund, visit, Facebook, or Twitter.


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