Mark Duper has a special affinity for the Dolphins Cycling Challenge. It is the bike ride that saved his life.
Two years ago he felt discomfort in the saddle while pedaling down Collins Avenue. He had himself checked out and was diagnosed with renal cancer. Dupers oncologist removed a football-sized tumor and his right kidney.
The former Miami Dolphin receiver will be back on his bike Sunday, a healthy example of the DCC cause. All proceeds from the annual two-day, tri-county event, which raised $3.8 million in its first three years, go to the University of Miamis Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Michael Mandich, DCC chief, expects a record 2,500 cyclists to participate in 10 different rides that range from 13 to 170 miles.
The DCC is committed to supporting the community and the only local academic cancer center, said Mandich, whose late father, ex-Dolphin Jim Mad Dog Mandich, was an inspiration for the creation of the event by former Dolphins CEO Mike Dee. Mandich died at age 62 in 2011 after a one-year battle against bile duct cancer.
The camaraderie of the rides, some of which finish at Sun Life Stadium, embodies the spirit of Mandich, who humbly devoted himself to good deeds and good will. Even in his final weeks, when asked how he was doing, he gave his indefatigable reply: Never better!
Whats great about the ride is that youve got serious cyclists and occasional cyclists and little old ladies who are passing me, and were all coming together in this big parade trying to make progress against cancer, Duper said. It helps us in the short run and the long run.
He considers himself a direct beneficiary of the DCC. Like his old friend Mandich, he was treated at Sylvester on the recommendation of Dee and former Dolphin Nat Moore.
If not for their research at UM, I probably wouldnt be alive today, he said.
Duper, 55, never considered himself a cancer candidate. But during the 30-mile ride in 2011 his back hurt and he was short of breath and I knew I wasnt that out of shape, he said.
Dupers doctors credited the keen sense of his body he developed as an athlete for detecting that something was wrong.
I was lucky to catch it before it spread, he said of the malignant mass. As athletes weve been through a lot of physical trauma and drama. If its not your neck, its your knee, and if its not your knee, its your wrist. We have to pay attention to our bodies because we use them to make a living.
Today Duper is cancer free, playing golf and splitting time between his home in Jacksonville, his hometown in Louisiana and the 42-foot RV he keeps in Miramar. He has four children and four grandchildren and has repaired his relationship with youngest son Marcus, a high school senior, who accused Duper of child abuse in March when the two got into an argument about Marcus playing a video game, then got into a fight. Prosecutors dropped charges in August. Dupers lawyer said the boy had called police the day after and grossly exaggerated the details.
Im the father and hes the child and I feel I know what is best for him, Duper said. Im trying to raise him to make something of himself. Weve put it behind us.
As for his old team, the team for which he caught 511 passes for 8,869 yards and 59 touchdowns in 11 seasons with three Pro Bowl appearances while pairing with Mark Clayton and connecting with Dan Marino, Duper predicts a playoff berth.
But I do think the Dolphins need someone to teach the players to tune up their route running, he said. Im sure Ill be discussing that with Nat and the other guys while were riding.
If they can keep up with Super Duper, who says hes feeling better than ever.