The V Foundation’s seventh annual Virginia Vine event raised nearly $900,000 to support cancer research following two days of programs in Loudoun County’s wine country.
The event brings area donors together with the region’s top cancer researchers to learn about the latest breakthroughs and to boost funding for their work.
The V Foundation was founded in 1993 by ESPN and legendary basketball player Jimmy Valvano, shortly before he died from adenocarcinoma. It was announced in his memorable speech during that year’s ESPY Awards, when he introduced the foundation’s motto as “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
The Virginia Vine event is built on the template of a long-established foundation fundraiser in Napa Valley. Through the support of local community leaders, including Michael and Kristi Huber who host the event’s dinner auction at their Stone Tower Winery, the event has grown steadily, although it was held virtually in 2020 and in a hybrid format in 2021.
“I just want to say how wonderful it is to be able to see everybody in person,” said sports commentator and former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann, who serves as the master of ceremony during the main event. “All of you are a vital part of the success of this weekend and your support means even more funding for cancer research and we are very grateful.”
The crowd gathered for the dinner auction included medical staff from Johns Hopkins, the UVA Cancer Center, and the Massey Cancer Center at VCU, along with scores of Loudoun community leaders and Valvano’s brother, Nick.
“I hate to point out the fact that we are all touched by cancer in one way or another—whether fighting a personal battle or loving someone who is fighting,” Theismann said. “But I am inspired by the many people who come together to beat this disease. I look out here tonight and I see so many people focused on one mission and one mission only and that is defeating cancer.”
A hallmark of the weekend event is the Voices for Victory session that was held Saturday morning at Salamander Resort and Spa when top cancer researchers provided updates on the latest treatment breakthroughs and efforts to improve early detection and develop vaccines.
Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao highlighted the importance of that work—and fundraising to support that work—during the dinner event.
“This is a disease that got our attention because 10 million people die from it every single year. So what does that work out to? 27,000 people die a day of this damn disease,” he said. “When we find cures, we can save lives at our own hospitals and in our own clinics. But, more importantly, when we find a cure, we can save people around the world for whatever we find the cure for.”
This year’s even included the presentation of the inaugural Virginia Vine Visionary Award, presented to businessman and Washington Nationals owner Mark D. Lerner, who was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma after a lump was found above his left knee in 2016. That was followed by 25 radiation treatments, 14 surgeries and procedures, and hundreds of hours of rehab.
The award is presented to someone who has recognized the challenges of cancer firsthand, whether through their personal battle or supporting family and friends, and understands the power of research to prevent or cure cancer.
“Although this is not an honor that I wanted, it is the honor of a lifetime,” Lerner said in a recorded video message.
“When you have cancer, time has a way of changing,” Lerner said. “When you are bound to a hospital bed, you become a clock-watcher. Time crawls as long hours turn into long days and turn into long weeks that turn into long months. It can be torture. Endless waiting. And yet, at the same time, you are living with cancer all you want to do is have more time. Time before it spreads. Time to find the right treatments. Time to do the things you love with the people you love. As I’ve learned firsthand, time can be the difference between losing a leg and losing a life.”
The main fundraising event of the weekend include a silent and live auction led by Tony-winning actor Christian Hoff. Among the top action items were a Washington Commanders watch party with Joe Theismann in your living room to provide live commentary and a dinner for 12 prepared by a celebrity chef at Selma Mansion, both topping out at $15,000 bids.
To date, the Virginia Vines event has raised $3.7 million.