By Robert C. Jones Jr.
MIAMI, Fla. (February 8, 2015)—The pain shooting down Celia Schieffelin’s left ankle was only a minor distraction. Inspired by the courageous battle her mother fought but ultimately lost against cancer, the 19-year-old University of Miami student seemed impervious to just about anything during a 25-mile bike ride from Fort Lauderdale’s Esplanade Park to Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
But Schieffelin didn’t complete the marathon-length journey to shine a spotlight on herself. “It’s about the cause,” she said.
Schieffelin was one of the more than 2,700 cyclists who took to the streets February 7-8 for Dolphins Cycling Challenge V. The two-day charity event, which culminated Sunday with hundreds of cyclists riding to Sun Life Stadium, raises funds for the lifesaving treatment and research programs of UM’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Former Miami Dolphins tight end Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich helped start the fundraiser five years ago while he was battling bile duct cancer, a disease that took his life in April 2011 at the age of 62. The event, which features rides of various lengths over three counties, has raised close to $10 million since it began in 2010, with more than $3.4 million being raised for this year’s DCC.
Several UM employees and students rode as members of Team Sylvester. Schieffelin formed her own team. “We all feel very strongly and passionate about wiping out cancer, and that’s why we united to form Team Barb,” she said, referring to the group of cyclists she organized to honor her late mother, Barbara Burg, and raise funds for Sylvester’s research initiatives.
On Sunday, Schieffelin crossed the finish line about two hours after she departed Fort Lauderdale—other members of Team Barb riding alongside her or following closely behind. Wearing hot pink jerseys with the slogan “Team Barb: Family Is Forever” on the front, they included Schieffelin’s aunts and uncles, who flew in from New York to ride with her, as well as fellow UM students and a group of friends who traveled from California. Thirty-two riders strong, Team Barb has raised more than $100,000 for the cause.
It was Schieffelin’s second DCC. She rode in DCC IV in November 2013 as a freshman, completing a 13-mile ride even as her mother battled colorectal cancer that had spread to other parts of her body. The finance and management major almost missed this year’s ride, tearing two ligaments in her left ankle last semester. But the injury, while not completely healed, improved enough so that she could train on a stationary bike to prepare for the event.
Like Schieffelin, Lynette Estrada’s reason for riding hits close to home. Her teenage son, Lucas, in addition to having autism, has battled brain cancer for most of his life. “We draw strength from each other,” said Estrada. “Despite his autism, he understands why I ride. When I tell him or remind him, he answers, ‘Oh yeah!’ And he puts up both fists as if he’s fighting someone. Lucas is my biggest fan.”
Lucas came down with a persistent cough days before the DCC. So instead of riding the 72-mile “Perfect Season Ride” from West Palm Beach to Miami, as she had planned, Estrada hooked up her Specialized road bike to a trainer and pedaled for five hours inside her home on Sunday, stopping only for water breaks and to administer medication to her son.
It was Joe Natoli’s fourth Dolphins Cycling Challenge. UM’s senior vice president for business and finance and chief financial officer rode 170 miles—from Sun Life Stadium to West Palm Beach on Saturday, with the return ride on Sunday. He called Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center “a hugely important community asset.”
“It needs to be—and is on its way to being—one of the finest cancer centers in the world,” said Natoli. “The DCC, by providing significant funds for unrestricted cancer research, addresses one of the most critical needs for achieving world-class status. I’m thrilled with the growth in the DCC over its first five years, but we have just scratched the surface of its potential—and Sylvester’s potential for greatness.”
Among the other prominent riders: Stuart A. Miller, chairman of the UM Board of Trustees; Pascal J. Goldschmidt, senior vice president for medical affairs, dean of the Miller School of Medicine, and CEO of UHealth; and Stephen D. Nimer, director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
This year’s event included a 5K run/walk, held in the early-morning hours on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium before the cyclists started to arrive.