TAMPA — Anthony Pedicini saw cancer ravage his brother's body when the men were in their early 20s.
The family took it day by day. His brother, Thomas Pedicini, was fighting against Hodgkin's lymphoma to make it past his 21st birthday.
"The prospect of losing your only brother changes your life," said Anthony Pedicini, now 36.
Anthony Pedicini moved to Tampa to live closer to Thomas Pedicini once his brother got the diagnosis. They started going to Tampa Bay Lightning games together as a way to cope.
"Hockey and cancer sort of coincided," Anthony Pedicini said.
And in the Pedicini family, it still does today. But now it's mainly through Anthony Pedicini's beard.
Yup, you read that right.
Anthony Pedicini, a Lightning fan, is leading the nation in the most money raised for NHL team charities in this year's annual Beard-A-Thon. He's on his way to breaking the 7-year-old competition's all-time record of $23,000. As of Wednesday afternoon, he surpassed his $20,000 goal.
That's nearly $4,000 ahead of a group raising money in the name of the San Jose Sharks. But as Anthony Pedicini, a local political strategist, points out: The group out of California is, well, a group. Pedicini, though backed by more than 200 people so far, is doing this as one man, he said.
He's proud to do it. His brother Thomas Pedicini, now 35 and living in Melbourne, is cancer-free.
The experience set a fire under Anthony Pedicini to raise money to help researchers find a cure. The money he raises in the Beard-A-Thon will go to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation based in Tampa.
"Just seeing the disease and what it did to him," Anthony Pedicini said of his brother, "you just don't want anyone to go through it ... that just shouldn't happen to a kid."
This isn't the first time he's raised money for cancer through beard growth, but it has been the most lucrative. The highest he raised prior to this year was about $12,000, he said.
There were about 1,230 people doing the Beard-A-Thon as of Wednesday. Each participant picks a hockey team to represent. While Anthony Pedicini led as an individual for the Lightning, Capitals fans had raised a total of $42,000 by Wednesday morning.
Anthony Pedicini said once he reached his $20,000 goal, he'd dye the beard blue. But the scruff of blue won't leave his face until the Lightning is out of the playoffs and he won't stop fundraising now that he has reached $20,000.
Holding up his phone with a big smile on his face and a mess of hair dye on his beard, Anthony Pedicini showed off his Beard-A-Thon profile at $20,000 in a picture posted to Twitter around noon Wednesday.
He said he would show off the blue beard to the Lightning in person at Wednesday night's Eastern Conference final Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He planned to be in the stands next to his 82-year-old grandmother and Thomas Pedicini — the man who inspired the facial hair and continues to inspire his big bro.
Contact Sara DiNatale at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400. Follow @sara_dinatale.