36th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner

Jerry Rice - Sports Legend

(October 14, 2021) While the 36th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner benefiting The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis had to again be held virtually rather than at its traditional setting in a New York City hotel ballroom, those in attendance heard stories of perseverance and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.  The stories were recounted by people living with paralysis and their loved ones, the Sports Legends who were honored, and the musicians who shared their talents with the audience.  All agreed that supporting The Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and the researchers who were making great strides in the basic science and clinical laboratories, held significant importance. The dinner raised nearly $2 million in support of the cutting-edge research underway at The Miami Project, a center unlike any other in the world studying spinal cord injuries.

Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Costas again emceed the virtual event with his typical wit and charm, while expressing his wish to reconvene at next year’s event in person. The organization’s mantra, Stand Up For Those Who Can’t, was echoed by all who participated in the evening.  The evening’s participants included previous Great Sports Legends honorees: Three-time Super Bowl Champion and Super Bowl and League MVP Jerry Rice; Helio Castroneves, 4-time Indy 500 winner, one of only 4 men to complete the milestone; 6-time Olympic Gold Medal winning swimmer Amy Van Dyken Rouen; Olympic Gold Medalist Gymnast and World Champion Shawn Johnson East, Basketball Hall of Famer and NBA and Olympic Champion Alonzo Mourning.

Through their musical performances, multiple Grammy Award winners Gloria Estefan, Jon Secada, and up and coming crossover artists Elysanij, inspired with their acts and shared words of support and encouragement for The Miami Project and their quest to find cures for paralysis and other neurological disorders and injuries.

In addition to hearing from the Sports Legends on why they continue to support The Miami Project, a particular highpoint of the event was the inspirational and emotional video that shared the stories of a few of the people living with paralysis, and how The Miami Project and its co-founder Dr. Barth Green have helped them through their injuries and recovery. Indeed, through the stories shared by the paralyzed individuals, and Miami Project leadership, it was apparent that the incredible advances that the researchers are making are undeniably having an impact on those living with paralysis.

Marc Buoniconti, the Buoniconti Fund’s President who was paralyzed in a college football game 36 years ago, said, “I remember the day that I lay paralyzed on the football field fighting for my life.  I never thought it would lead us to this moment of enormous excitement, because now I believe that cures are just over the horizon. I think my dad would be so proud of everything that we have been able to accomplish. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the last moments I spent with him. He looked me in the eyes and made me promise never to give up until a cure is found.  Let’s continue his legacy.  Let’s finish the job and fulfill his promise!”

The past Sports Legend honorees who participated in the evening shared sincere words for their inclusion in the evening, as well as urged guests to continue supporting The Buoniconti Fund.  Jerry Rice said, “I am honored to be asked back for this event.  Just because the world has changed in so many ways, the needs of those living with paralysis don’t stop. Those living with paralysis continue to be amongst the most vulnerable to this pandemic, and many other complications in their daily lives. As Nick and Marc have said for years, paralysis can happen to anyone at any time. Paralysis effects so many who are in the prime of their lives, and with your continued support, the researchers and doctors will not only continue their work but accelerate the pace to a cure.”

Helio Castroneves added during his remarks, “What The Miami Project and Buoniconti Fund are doing to help those living with paralysis is truly life changing. Nick and Marc are two guys I have admired since I met them.  Their enthusiasm was always contagious, and I couldn’t say no when they called for help.  Even though we lost Nick, his spirit lives on in everything we do. Marc and Dr. Green continue the fight, and I am happy to stand beside them as we look to help all our friends in wheelchairs get up and walk again.”

Shawn Johnson East, who was honored in 2013 by The Buoniconti family, said “I remember the excitement and the buzz of the crowd on the red carpet and in the ballroom.  It was unlike any event I had gone to before and it quickly became apparent that it was because of the love and determination of Marc and Nick Buoniconti. When tragedy struck, they leaned on their athletic background and did what it took to find Dr. Green and save Marc’s life, and then team up with him to create The Miami Project.  That is what I find so admirable and why that evening was so special for me.”

Alonzo Mourning said, “Dr. Green and the team at The Miami Project have been doing such great work for so long.  They are making real strides in the fight against paralysis and other neurological disorders. They have selflessly dedicated their lives to making a difference for others. But to do it for as long as Dr. Green and his team has, and with such success, that is a testament to the caliber of leadership and support from the community they’ve received for more than 36 years.  I am happy to support this cause in whatever way I can.”

Amy Van Dyken-Rouen said, “As someone who found out first hand that paralysis does not discriminate, I was happy to see so many people come out to support the cause. Getting a chance to be in that room with all the other Legends, and Nick and Marc knowing all they’ve done to try and help others, was quite inspiring.”

The evening, presented by Tudor Group and the Mack Family, was hosted by Buoniconti Fund President Marc Buoniconti and The Miami Project co-founder and chairman Dr. Barth Green. The dinner serves to benefit The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.  Since its inception in 1986, the Great Sports Legends Dinner has honored more than 370 Sports Legends and humanitarians and has raised more than $125 million for The Miami Project’s spinal cord injury research programs. The Miami Project and Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis is committed to finding a cure for paralysis resulting from spinal cord injury and to seeing millions worldwide walk again. Event sponsors included Tudor Group, the Mack family, and HBO Sports.