1 - Jennifer Lopez and Honoree Alex Rodriguez

“We can no longer allow people to become paralyzed and not have an answer for them,” said Marc Buoniconti during the annual “Great Sports Legends Dinner” at Manhattan’s Hilton Hotel on Monday night, benefiting The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis.

“This dinner and all the support we get from this spectacular group of legends, honorees and supporters is the fuel and inspiration we need to stand up for those who can’t as we strive to cure paralysis once and for all,” said Buoniconti, the president of The Buoniconti Fund.

Chris Evert 

The son of NFL Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti, Marc was paralyzed in 1985 from an injury sustained in a college football game. Soon after, his father, along with renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Barth Green, founded The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis is the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

“Finding a cure for my paralysis became his life’s passion,” said Marc.

The younger Buoniconti went on to tell the stories of three young men who overcame paralysis as the result of accidents thanks to pioneering treatments developed by researchers from The Miami Project, which is supported by the Buoniconti Fund. All three are walking again and came out on stage.

Among the crowd of 1,500 were several legendary former athletes who were honored, including Alex Rodriguez, Ray Allen, Bob Griese, Chris Evert and Brian Boitano, as well as jockey Mike Smith who rode Justify to the Triple Crown, and polo great and model Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras.

 

Jockey and Triple Crown winner Mike Smith. 

Amy Purdy, the most decorated U.S. Paralympic snowboarder, actress and author, was also honored during the emotionally charged evening, which had several testimonials from those dealing with serious disabilities.

Purdy, at age 19, suffered meningitis which led to septic shock and the removal of both of her legs below the knees, her kidneys and her spleen. She had little chance of survival but ultimately received a kidney transplant from her father and prosthetic legs. Rather than feeling sorry for herself, she decided to snowboard again though the first attempt didn’t go well. She lost control, fell, and her new legs became detached and continued down the slope without her. The situation left her with two choices, either give up, or get creative. She chose the latter, made it back, and knew she had what it took to overcome her disability. “My legs coming off was the beginning of my professional career.”

The dinner was emceed by sports commentator Bob Costas, who displayed the right balance of gravitas and humor, at one point characterizing the event as the only fundraiser where those honored outnumbered those attending. KC and the Sunshine Band gave a nostalgic performance, and Miami philanthropists Alitza and Caroline Weiss were so moved by the evening that they donated $500,000 to The Buoniconti Fund.

Another surprise occurred when Costas presented Green, and Terry Buoniconti, Nick’s wife, with “special tribute” awards for their devotion to the cause.

Former New York Giant Harry Carson spoke of being temporarily paralyzed during a football game, rushed to a hospital but he fortunately recovered the same day.

Since its inception in 1985, the annual Great Sports Legends dinner has honored more than 350 individuals and has raised more than $120 million for The Miami Project’s spinal cord injury research programs.

The Miami Project’s clinical trial program currently includes autologous Schwann cell transplantation, therapeutic hypothermia, Riluzole, deep brain stimulation, and brain machine interface.

Honorees at the Great Sports Legends dinner, with Nick and Marc Buoniconti. 

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