Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

UCF students walk across Florida to end cancer

Melissa Matoff, Brandon Gerhard and Greg Demers walk onto Clearwater Beach at Pier 60 after completing 165 miles in the Walk Across Florida. The three were among five University of Central Florida students, four of whom are from North Pinellas County, who participated in the event.

Photo by Theodora Aggeles

Melissa Matoff, Brandon Gerhard and Greg Demers walk onto Clearwater Beach at Pier 60 after completing 165 miles in the Walk Across Florida. The three were among five University of Central Florida students, four of whom are from North Pinellas County, who participated in the event.

CLEARWATER — Five college students trudged up to Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach, tired yet exhilarated.

No, they hadn't exited a beach hotel groggy from a night of partying.

The group, all University of Central Florida students and all but one from North Pinellas, had just completed the Walk Across Florida, a nine-day trek to raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, also known as Livestrong and famous for the yellow wristbands that signify the fight against cancer.

It was Saturday afternoon and the tally was in: 165 miles walked, more than $3,000 raised.

The Walk Across Florida, which began in Titusville on the Atlantic Coast, was founded by Greg Demers, a University of Central Florida junior and a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. He planned the fundraiser in memory of his fraternity's mentor, Brian Dornbusch, who died of cancer in November. He was just 33.

"I wanted to do something to honor him," said Demers, 21, of Oldsmar. "Something different that would draw attention to the cause. He was the alumni adviser and our mentor. Everybody knew him."

Demers, a marketing major with plans to attend law school, says he knew walking across Florida sounded crazy, but he wanted to raise more money than he might from a carwash.

"We met a preacher outside of Titusville and heard lots of stories along the way from people who had friends and family with cancer," Demers said.

David Marren, 21, Kappa Sigma fraternity treasurer and UCF junior majoring in economics, undertook the challenge alongside his brother Danny, 20. The brothers from Palm Harbor finished the walk to shouts of support from their mom and dad. Once at the beach, the younger Marren went off by himself to relax and cool off.

David Marren talked about people they met along the way.

"In the town of Christmas, this lady saw us outside a gas station," he said. "She bought us a case of water to drink. And near Ybor City, a homeless guy asked what we were doing. We told him, walking to raise money for cancer research. He pulled 50 cents out of his pocket."

"It was fun to walk through the small towns and talk to people," said Demers, whose mom greeted him with a big smile and a congratulations sign.

People were helpful, but the heat and humidity were almost unbearable, they said.

Logging about 20 miles a day on all but the last day drained the students' energy. At night, they pooled their own money to bunk in one hotel or motel room. They would grab a meal and cool off in the pool or sit in a hot tub to ease sore muscles. Early each morning, they headed out again.

"We got lost near Dale Mabry and Hillsborough in Tampa," David Marren said. "We took a shortcut through the woods and got trapped by some water. We couldn't get across. We tried to make a bridge with some logs and sticks. That didn't work."

"Finally, we came to a dry area and could walk across and get back on the road," said Melissa Matoff, 20, of Altamonte Springs.

Shortly after 3 p.m. Saturday, the group emerged at the top of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, surrounded by cars and pedestrians edging toward the beach. Demers wore a sandwich board sign announcing the walk. They finished despite threatening clouds close behind.

Along the way, the students found strength, gleaned wisdom and discovered some tips for future walks.

"Keep walking. Just don't look back," Matoff said.

"Just have fun," said Brandon Gerhard, 21, of Palm Harbor.

"It gets really hard to go on, but moan and keep walking," said David Marren.

"Don't walk in May," Demers said. "Winter break would work better. We've talked about another walk, but this time it would be in December."

Fast facts

How to help

It's still not too late to make a tax-deductible donation to the Walk Across Florida. Visit

UCF students walk across Florida to end cancer 05/18/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 18, 2009 8:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.