Crushing a baseball is always fun for Fort Lauderdale native Anthony Rizzo, who at age 25 already has 71 big-league homers.
But Rizzo said crossing the finish line on Saturday as part of the fifth annual Dolphins Cycling Challenge was a special kind of thrill.
Rizzo, accompanied by his father, brother and a friend, rode his bicycle 29 miles from Sun Life to South Beach.
“It was a blast,” said Rizzo, who grew up a Marlins fan but is now the starting first baseman for the Chicago Cubs. ‘There were a lot of people on the streets, cheering us on.
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“And when we crossed the finish line, it felt like we were somebody important — which we were, because we were helping to raise money for a good cause.”
That good cause is the battle against cancer, which causes about 8.2 million deaths per year world-wide. More than 500,000 Americans are expected to die from the disease this year alone.
The DCC has raised more than $10.5 million since the event was created in 2010, and 100 percent of that money goes to research at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
About 3,000 people participated in this year’s DCC, which concluded on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
For Rizzo, the event was personal.
Rizzo was only 18 when he was told he had cancer, specifically, Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
By the time he signed with the Boston Red Sox as a sixth-round pick in 2007, he got to play just six pro games that year. Then, in May 2008, while playing Low A ball in Greenville, South Carolina, Rizzo remembers “not feeling very well.”
His mother flew out to South Carolina, and the two of them were in the doctor’s office when he was diagnosed.
“It was crazy — there were a lot of emotions,” Rizzo said. “But once the doctors explained everything and told me about chemotherapy — which I knew nothing about — I was very confident we could beat it.”
Rizzo missed the rest of that season and returned to South Florida, where he was treated at the Sylvester Center.
“I used to not like going down there,” said Rizzo, who was treated for six months. “I was definitely sick a good amount.”
Ultimately, with the help of Dr. Izidore Lossos, who is the director of the lymphoma program, and the rest of the team at Sylvester, Rizzo did indeed beat cancer.
The next year, he was back in Greenville, and, in 2010, he had a breakthrough, blasting 25 homers and knocking in 100 runs in the low minors.
Rizzo did it again in 2011, hitting 27 homers and driving in 103 runs, mostly in Triple A.
By 2012, when the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the San Diego Padres, Rizzo was in the majors to stay, and his cancer has been in full remission for nearly seven years.
“I was very lucky,” said Rizzo, who in May 2013 signed a seven-year, $41 million contract extension with the Cubs. “The disease taught me a lot about myself — probably more than you are supposed to know at 18.
“But it has made me not take the game — or life — for granted.”
Rizzo, who made his first All-Star Game last season, believes more good things are on the horizon.
His foundation recently donated $250,000 to the Sylvester Center, and the hospital named a waiting room in his honor.
In addition, his Cubs recently hired one of the most respected managers in the game, Joe Maddon, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Cubs have perhaps the top-ranked farm system in baseball, especially when it comes to hitting prospects, and Rizzo recently predicted his team will win the NL Central Division.
Rizzo, who leaves for spring training in Arizona on Feb. 16, seems just as sure about his Cubs as he was about beating cancer.
“I like our team,” said Rizzo, whose Cubs won just 73 games last season, finishing in last place in the division. ‘I can’t wait to get started.”
For more information on the DCC, visit www.RideDCC.com.