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Chuckstrong Backyard Huddle raises nearly $2.5 million for cancer research

Pagano celebrates after making the $1 million shot.

Pagano celebrates after making the $1 million shot.

In a night that brought together cancer survivors, researchers and philanthropists, the Chuckstrong Backyard Huddle raised nearly than $2.5 million July 29 for cancer research at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Hosted by the Indianapolis Colts and former head coach Chuck Pagano at the home of Colts owner Jim Irsay, the event took a surprising turn that bridged football and basketball. Irsay spoke of the brilliance of IU cancer researchers who are working to improve treatment and search for cures.

“We’re going to have a little bit of fun and put the coach under pressure,” Irsay said.

Guests gathered in a basement basketball court where Irsay announced Pagano would be shooting baskets – each worth a $100,000 gift toward cancer research. Pagano sunk 10 shots for a total gift of $1 million. Irsay offered another $1 million for a free throw. After a pep talk from former Colts offensive tackle and Indiana native Joe Reitz, Pagano hit the shot amid cheers from guests (watch the shot captured by WISH-TV). With that final shot, Irsay made a total gift of $2 million to cancer research.

To date, the Chuckstrong initiative has raised nearly $10 million since 2013. Funds have been used to help recruit new researchers, provide seed money for researchers to launch new ideas, and purchase laboratory instruments to support innovative cancer research.

Lee and Pagano speak during the Chuckstrong Backyard Huddle.

“The Chuckstrong Backyard Huddle was a remarkable and inspirational evening that celebrated not only the importance of cancer research, but also the strength of survivors,” Kelvin Lee, M.D., director of the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, said. “We know that research cures cancer, and we are grateful to Mr. Irsay and so many others for their unwavering support of our mission to discover better approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”

During the event program, guests learned about the impact of IU cancer research and expertise in a moving video about Stephanie Pemberton, a cancer survivor and Indianapolis Colts vice president of marketing. Pemberton detailed her triple negative breast cancer diagnosis journey and treatment.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Chuckstrong event was canceled. This year’s event was reimagined as the Chuckstrong Backyard Huddle, which nearly 100 guests attended. Attendees included sponsors for the 2020 event, cancer survivors and researchers.

Pagano’s story

Chuck Pagano’s diagnosis of acute promyelocytic leukemia in September 2012 shocked Indianapolis with the reminder that we are all vulnerable to the devastating effects of cancer. The Chuckstrong movement quickly began providing an opportunity for our city to visibly support Pagano as his team rallied and marched toward the playoffs.

Pagano endured difficult treatments under the guidance of Dr. Larry Cripe, a hematologist and cancer center researcher, but he ultimately returned to his head coaching duties on Dec. 24, 2012 – a day that inspired and captivated all who have been touched by cancer. 

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Candace Gwaltney

Candace Gwaltney is the science writer for the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.