Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation’s 10th Annual ‘Walk Off for Cancer’ event raises $1.3 million

On Nov. 14, Friends and family walk at Pine Trails Park for Anthony Rizzo’s 10th Annual Walk-Off for Cancer.

Sophia Squiccirini and Vincent Ciullo

On Nov. 14, 2021, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation hosted its 10th annual “Walk Off for Cancer” at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Florida. The event completely sold out. As an event attended by many around Parkland, and even across the United States, the support and turnout of guests was incredible. The story of Anthony Rizzo and his amazing foundation is one to be remembered by many, with the walk contributing even more to his success throughout life.

As a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Anthony Rizzo is Parkland’s most-known athlete. He began his major league baseball journey in Greenville, South Carolina with the Boston Red Sox’s Single-A Team. In 2007, Rizzo was drafted by the Red Sox. Sadly, he was diagnosed with limited state classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma in April 2008. Rizzo went through six months of chemotherapy, and on Sept. 2, 2008, he was officially placed in remission. On Nov. 18, 2008, Anthony Rizzo was told he could live a ‘normal life.’

Soon after, Rizzo returned to playing baseball, something he’s enjoyed his whole life. Now, he is not only a successful player, but acts as a role model for children diagnosed with cancer.

After beating his own battle with cancer, Rizzo understood the financial burden cancer causes due to hospital bills and treatments. This was the deciding factor that he and his family felt the need to help other families that were going through the same experiences that they had.

“It’s just crazy to think that it’s been 10 years this fast. I remember the first one like it was yesterday, and it’s really cool to see it grow every year, and have this turnout that gets bigger and bigger,” Rizzo said. “We’re just really appreciative, especially to be able to do the walk at home in Parkland.”

The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation is a non-profit organization with the goal of raising money for cancer research and provides support to families with children battling cancer. It was started by Rizzo and his family in 2012. The “Walk Off for Cancer” has become an annual tradition in Parkland. Their mission is to raise money for cancer research and to provide support to children and their families battling the disease.

In 2020, the event had to switch to a virtual format because of COVID-19. Despite the circumstances, donations from the walk exceeded $850,000. People from across the U.S. were able to participate in the event. This year, which is now back to its normal in-person format, participants raised over $1.3 million for the foundation. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person event had a limited capacity.

Extended family members of Rizzo devote time to the foundation to support Rizzo. They pay for their own tickets to fly to Florida and spend time helping. Many volunteered to attend the walk, setting up tents with raffles and refreshments.

“Anthony puts a lot of time into his work. On his days off, he’s in the hospitals with kids,” Katherine Connolly, Rizzo’s cousin, said. “It’s important to him, and even if he can’t be in the same area with the kids, he’ll send a video message just to brighten their day.”

MSD Varsity and Junior Varsity baseball players helped set up the event early in the morning. They put together tents and set up refreshments. Some of the athletes stayed for the walk and handed out water bottles to the participants who were half-way done with the walk.

“I got to Pine Trails Park at 6 a.m. with the rest of my teammates. We set up all the tents including Dunkin’ Donuts, BodyArmor and the Anthony Rizzo Raffle. It was nice being able to know that I’m helping out a great foundation that in return, helps others,” MSD varsity baseball player Cameron Harris said.

The event was a fun-filled morning, with music playing throughout the park and fans lining up to take a picture with Rizzo himself. Before the walk, Rizzo spoke out about his foundation and the journey he went through when he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He presented a $250,000 check to Joe DiMaggio’s Children’s Hospital. The commissioners of Parkland all stood up next to Rizzo on the amphitheater stage and acknowledged Rizzo for his contribution to the community and his service for cancer patients along with their families. Parkland Mayor Rich Walker also presented Rizzo with a jersey that said Parkland (48).

“My favorite part of the event was the opportunity we had to be on stage and speak with the residents directly. We truly appreciate Anthony Rizzo and his foundation for the positive impact they have had and continue to have on our community and others. Being able to present Anthony with a one-of-a-kind Parkland Jersey was very special,” Walker said. “It’s amazing to see someone who has been so successful continuously embrace their roots and never forget where they came from. Anthony Rizzo is a true hometown hero here in the City of Parkland.”

Kelly Sorensen, a Coral Springs resident who lost her daughter Emma to brain cancer, made a heartfelt speech about her family’s hardships through financial losses, hope and all the little things most people don’t know come with a cancer diagnosis.

Contributing to the Anthony Rizzo Foundation came with rewards, the team raising the largest donation received an autographed No. 48 jersey.

Before the walk started, Broward County Mayor Michael Udine designated Nov. 14 as “Rizzo Family Appreciation Day” in Broward County. The day is now a commemoration of gratitude and thanks towards work that the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation does for families battling cancer.

“I’m participating because Anthony Rizzo has been so generous to Joe DiMaggio’s Children’s Hospital, and the foundation actually funds my position, so I definitely benefit from him and his foundation,” Jasmine Miller said. “It’s my first year, and I have not gotten to meet Anthony Rizzo due to the pandemic, but I got to meet him this morning and it’s a very exciting day.”

The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation helps many other organizations, including Joe DiMaggio’s Children’s Hospital. Many workers from the hospital attended the walk, including Linda Herbert, the “Chief Fun Officer” for patients.

“Every year, we come here to support Anthony and his foundation because of who he is and what he does to impact families,” Linda Herbert said. “We look forward to coming here, seeing everybody and saying ‘thank you’ for everything.”

The foundation makes great differences in families that are battling cancer. State Representative Christine Hunchofsky, former mayor of Parkland, participated in the walk this year with her dad and youngest son.

“I participate in the walk every year because of the wonderful work of Anthony, his family, and the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation for children and families suffering with cancer. I love the event. Over the years it has grown and yet it still remains a fun community event. It’s an opportunity to get together with friends, participate in the walk, and support a wonderful cause,” Hunchofsky said. “The foundation is amazing and does incredible work. You will hear about the children they have helped in Chicago where Anthony played for the Cubs. However, you may not hear about the many local families who have received support from the foundation to help them through their treatments. We have several families in our community who have been helped by this foundation.”

Throughout the struggles of life, Anthony Rizzo and his family have learned the spirit of giving back to others.

“Events in life happen quickly. One day you could be playing baseball, and the next you could be diagnosed with cancer,” Rizzo said. “The most important thing is how you approach these life-changing moments. Everything in life happens for a reason, and you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day after. Always appreciate every day.”