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Dolphins bring community together in annual cancer research fundraiser event

For most of Saturday morning, David Long Jr. was side by side with Zach Thomas and engaged in conversation.

It was a snapshot of the Dolphins’ past and present at middle linebacker, as the two cycled a little more than 50 miles from Hard Rock Stadium through parts of Southern Broward County before returning to Miami Gardens shortly before noon.

“We talked the whole way for real,” said Long, who just completed his first season in Miami. “But then I had to skirt off on him at the end. I couldn’t let him beat me.”

For Long, it was an opportunity to get to know a Dolphins legend while participating in the NFL’s largest fundraising event for the first time.

The Dolphins on Saturday held their 14th annual Challenge Cancer event, bringing members of the organization and the local community together to raise money for cancer research.

Miami Dolphins linebacker David Long talks to reporters during the Dolphins Challenge Cancer XIV event at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Saturday, February 24, 2024. The DCC unites the community with 100 percent of participant raised-funds going towards life-saving cancer research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Miami Dolphins linebacker David Long talks to reporters during the Dolphins Challenge Cancer XIV event at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Saturday, February 24, 2024. The DCC unites the community with 100 percent of participant raised-funds going towards life-saving cancer research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Several members of the Dolphins, including defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips and coach Mike McDaniel, were in attendance for the bike ride and run, which has grown into a premier event for the organization. McDaniel, as well as owner Stephen Ross, addressed a crowd before the 5k run.

Since its inception in 2010, the DCC has raised over $64 million for the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only cancer center in South Florida designated by the National Cancer Institute. In 2020, the Dolphins gave a $75 million commitment to the cancer center. The gift was the largest known charitable commitment ever made by a sports team.

“DCC to me is extremely important,” said Phillips, who served as co-chair for the event. Phillips has typically participated in the bike ride but didn’t this year as he rehabs from his torn Achilles injury. “I’ve had several family members and family friends who have been affected by cancer. So for me to be able to just come out here and raise some funds for cancer research and show my support and bring the community together, it’s really a blessing.”

Miami Dolphins Jaelan Phillips talks to reporters during the Dolphins Challenge Cancer XIV event at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Saturday, February 24, 2024. The DCC unites the community with 100 percent of participant raised-funds going towards life-saving cancer research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Miami Dolphins Jaelan Phillips talks to reporters during the Dolphins Challenge Cancer XIV event at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Saturday, February 24, 2024. The DCC unites the community with 100 percent of participant raised-funds going towards life-saving cancer research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

This year, the Dolphins created new ride distances to honor many of the franchise’s Hall of Famers. Long completed the 54-mile bike ride alongside Thomas, who wore the jersey No. 54 during his playing days and was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. There was also a 13-mile Dan Marino ride, a 39-mile Larry Csonka ride and a 99-mile Jason Taylor ride.

Like so many who participate in the annual event, Long has personally been affected by cancer; he lost his aunt, Corrie, to cancer in 2015. He lifted his left sleeve to show a tattoo that he got in honor of his late aunt.

“Of course it was fun, but there’s also a deeper meaning to it, as well,” Long said.

Riders wait for the start of a race during the Dolphins Challenge Cancer XIV event at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Saturday, February 24, 2024. The DCC unites the community with 100 percent of participant raised-funds going towards life-saving cancer research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Riders wait for the start of a race during the Dolphins Challenge Cancer XIV event at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Saturday, February 24, 2024. The DCC unites the community with 100 percent of participant raised-funds going towards life-saving cancer research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dolphins president and CEO Tom Garfinkel said that more than 460 cancer survivors participated in the event and estimates that DCC had more than 7,000 participants. Money is still being collected, but the event is expected to surpass last year’s high mark of $10 million raised with more than $12 million brought in.

“It’s just very rewarding,” Garfinkel said. “Cancer is something that affects everybody, myself, probably everybody, a family member, friend. It’s amazing. It’s amazing to see a community come together like this.”