Dolphins | Cycling Challenge

Former Dolphin Mark Duper a big fan of Cycling Challenge


Former Dolphin Mark Duper will be back in the Dolphins Cycling Challenge — an event that tipped him off to his own illness in 2011.

Mark Duper acknowledges the work of Mark S. Soloway, M.D., right, as he explains his recovery. Duper held a press conference with his doctors at his side concerning his recovery after undergoing surgery to remove cancerous tumor from his kidney at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Jan. 24, 2011.
Mark Duper acknowledges the work of Mark S. Soloway, M.D., right, as he explains his recovery. Duper held a press conference with his doctors at his side concerning his recovery after undergoing surgery to remove cancerous tumor from his kidney at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Jan. 24, 2011.
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What: A series of group bike rides in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties to raise funds for the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

When: Saturday and Sunday, starting at 7:30 a.m.

Where: The 10 rides vary in distance from 13 to 170 miles and start and finish in different locations, including Sun Life Stadium, Ocean Drive and 10th Street in Miami Beach, CityPlace in West Palm Beach and Mizner Park in Boca Raton.

Who: About 2,500 riders, including ex-Dolphins, who will collect money-per-mile pledges from donors.

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. Duper’s 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 Miami’s 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!”

“What’s great about the ride is that you’ve got serious cyclists and occasional cyclists and little old ladies who are passing me, and we’re 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 wouldn’t 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 wasn’t that out of shape,” he said.

Duper’s 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 we’ve been through a lot of physical trauma and drama. If it’s not your neck, it’s your knee, and if it’s not your knee, it’s 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. Duper’s lawyer said the boy had called police the day after and “grossly exaggerated” the details.

“I’m the father and he’s the child and I feel I know what is best for him,” Duper said. “I’m trying to raise him to make something of himself. We’ve 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. “I’m sure I’ll be discussing that with Nat and the other guys while we’re riding.”

If they can keep up with Super Duper, who says he’s feeling “better than ever.”

Read more Linda Robertson stories from the Miami Herald

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