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Racing for a cure at Miles for Moffitt

Around 3 a.m. Saturday morning, dozens of volunteers from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute gathered on campus to begin preparing for the day’s activities. Four hours later, the thousands of attendees of the Miles for Moffitt cancer research fundraiser admired the results.

For the 10th year in a row, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute held its annual Miles for Moffitt event on campus Saturday morning. 

The event was designed by Senator Connie Mack, Dr. William Dalton, former Moffitt president and CEO, and their wives 10 years ago to raise money for cancer research at Moffitt. Every year since then, a contest has been held within the center to fund cancer research projects. 

Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn attended the event and saw each of the three timed races off at the starting line. Many of those in attendance came in groups sporting commemorative T-shirts in memory and support of loved ones and colleagues. 

One such group wore turquoise shirts. Some of their shirts read “in support of Anita,” others read “in support of mom,” still others said “in support of grandma.” One man’s shirt was “in support of my love” — he stood next to a woman whose shirt said “I am
Anita/mom/grandma/my love.” 

Another group, made up of former high school track team members had teamed up again to run in honor of their coach, who passed away from cancer. One team member manned the table while others participated in the 8K and 5K races.

Denise Baker, a former member of the team, said many in her group were running, but some were simply there to cheer others on. However, all of them, she said, were there to honor their coach and to support cancer research.

“We all came together as a team,” Baker said. “Some of us are just here to support and cheer on the runners. There are a lot of people in the group who have run 5Ks, 8Ks, half marathons (and) there are parents here who are also running and walking.”

H. Lee Moffitt attended the event, and was a figurehead at the beginning of every race and on the stage during the award ceremony. 

“I think that many who are here today, and many more who couldn’t be here today, are running because they have been touched by cancer in some way,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of cancer survivors out here today, and I’m proud of them for being here supporting us.”

Jennifer Dickens and Pat Windon came out Saturday with a group called Cancer Ninjas in support of Windon’s son, who had been a patient at Moffitt.

Windon had participated in two previous Moffitt-sponsored walks, and Dickens had been part of several walks in Nashville, Tennessee, though this was her first for Moffitt. Hope, she said, was her motivation, and why she felt others should come to walks like this.

“We just felt like we had gotten great care — the whole family, not just him,” Windon said. “And we got really involved, and wanted to keep that going for other families.”

Moffitt employs over 4,200 people, with an economic impact of nearly $2 billion in Florida, according to its website. Historically, Miles for Moffitt has brought in as much as $600,000, though Sellers is confident that this year’s total will be higher than last year’s. To date, the event has raised over $2 million for cancer research.

“100 percent of the funds raised through registration go to research,” said Tom Sellers, center director and executive vice president of Moffitt. “We put out a request for applications, our scientists write ideas, they’re reviewed by a grant review committee, and just this week, the associate center directors and I were able to select final recipients for funding.”

Most of the Cancer Ninjas walked in the 5K race, and they were among hundreds of race competitors who flocked to the posted results to get a glance at their time. Many of the racers simply wanted to beat their best time in a similar race, and others looked for their name above their friends’ to earn bragging rights.

PNC Bank, the largest sponsor of the event, provided blue shirts for many of the participants, and the sea of sweaty blue racers was inspiring to behold, especially considering many of them were parents and grandparents of grown children.

According to Sellers seven research teams were chosen and awarded $100,000 each.

This year, over 6,500 individuals participated in Miles for Moffitt. According to WTSP 10 News, about $650,000 was raised and donations will be accepted online until the end of June.