Run, Throw, and Row for Your Life — And the Lives of Others

Sitting at his desk one day, Robert Befumo, a Director at UBS Investment Bank, glanced over at a television and saw a story airing on CNBC about the RBC Decathlon. Created in 2008, the RBC Decathlon combines athletics, the financial services industry, entertainment, and charitable giving to raise funds for cancer research. Since 2011, the RBC Decathlon has partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering and has raised more than $4 million for pediatric cancer research.

RBC Decathlon Team

The story had special significance for Rob. Diagnosed with testicular cancer in December 2010, he had been successfully treated by medical oncologist George Bosl, Chair of Memorial Sloan Kettering's Department of Medicine, and completed treatment in May 2011.

"I immediately checked it out online and although I realized I was in no shape to compete in 2012, I made it my goal to be ready for 2013," Rob recalls. "I decided to compete to give back to the hospital that had saved my life and to recognize the doctors and nurses who give so much every day to save others — plain and simple."

Getting Ready

Rob had always been an athlete. Soccer was his sport in high school, and he had been involved in college intramurals and casual club sports after graduating. However, competing in a decathlon is a whole different ball game and so Rob began getting himself back into shape for the 2013 event.

A full-day fitness experience, the RBC Decathlon is composed of ten events including 400- and 800-meter runs, a football throw, pull-ups, bench presses, a 40-yard dash, dips, vertical jump, 20- yard shuttle, and a 500-meter row. Contestants compete not only against the field but against themselves: by setting personal goals for each event, each man or woman’s final donation tally is directly related to how well he or she performs versus the goals he or she has set.

To accomplish this, participants choose one activity as their "marquee event," in which they select a specific event and announce their goal in terms of time or the score they aim to achieve. Supporters then place "charity bets" on individual athletes. These performance-based donations are unique to the RBC Decathlon.

Rob chose the 500-meter row as his marquee event in both years that he participated, 2013 and 2014. "I pushed myself each year to rival the event’s best competitors and I feel that I succeeded." In 2014's decathlon, Rob set and achieved considerably more than his fundraising goal of $10,000 — he exceeded that amount by 186.6 percent, raising more than $18,000.

It's For The Kids

Thanks to important advances in treatment — many of which were pioneered at MSK — the five-year survival rate for pediatric cancer is now close to 80 percent. However, the remaining 20 percent of children with cancer face a bleak prognosis, and treatment options when cancer recurs are limited. Efforts to develop pediatric drugs are constrained by a small patient population and large costs; and drugs that are fully investigated in adults are often studied in children as an afterthought.

The RBC Decathlon focuses its efforts specifically against this problem.

Funds raised by the RBC Decathlon are directed to MSK's Pediatric Oncology Experimental Therapeutics Investigator's Consortium (POETIC). A collaboration among ten academic medical centers across the country and led by Memorial Sloan Kettering, POETIC's mission is the early clinical development of promising therapies for children, adolescents, and young adults with cancer and related disorders. The consortium's goals are twofold: to identify new agents that may improve the length and quality of life and to design and conduct clinical research trials, allowing children to have access to otherwise unavailable therapies close to their homes.

"There are children who have been through so much more than I ever was, and yet we have all fought the same battle," Rob observes. "I would like to be their face of hope and let them see that there is life after cancer. The decathlon is also my opportunity to give back to society."

Retirement? No Way!

Rob's initial plan was to retire from the decathlon after 2014. However, "I keep looking back at everything the event has done for me and others, and I honestly cannot understand why I would do that," he says. "I have raised a significant amount of money for a cause I believe in, I am in better shape than I was a decade ago, and I've rekindled friendships from years past."

So why would he hang it up? He won't. Rob is training for the 2015 RBC Decathlon. "How can I stop participating in something that has brought such joy to my life?" he says. Not just compete, but, he adds, "I’m looking to kick it up another notch next year."