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Ernest Hooper: Gonzmart found spokesman for his cause when he was diagnosed with cancer

Richard Gonzmart didn't let cancer stop him from running or from pursuing one of his favorite causes, raising money to fight cancer.
Richard Gonzmart didn't let cancer stop him from running or from pursuing one of his favorite causes, raising money to fight cancer.
Published Jun. 1, 2017

Richard Gonzmart says it's the secret men won't share.

When he first joined the Advance Prostate Cancer Collaboration at Moffitt Cancer Center 12 years ago, Gonzmart longed for a spokesman.

In the years that followed, he created the first iteration of his annual Father's Day event to raise money for Moffitt's prostate research and searched for a survivor who could explain the benefits of early detection.

He wanted someone who could explain that prostate cancer strikes one of every six men and one of every three African-American and Hispanic men.

The search proved difficult. One well-known community figure turned him down. A local television reporter who aired his battle never returned Gonzmart's calls.

"So I prayed to God that we would find a man with the courage, the strength and the competence to share his story. And I found somebody."

On Oct. 31, 2013, Gonzmart received a call from Dr. Julio Pow-Sang, chairman of the Genitourinary Oncology Department at Moffitt. He still has the voicemail message on his phone. When Gonzmart returned the call, he learned his PSA reading was on the rise and he likely had prostate cancer.

"When I heard the word cancer, at first I was kind of shocked," Gonzmart said. "Then I realize, I had prayed for this."

Moffitt doctors eventually treated Gonzmart's cancer in May 2014 with brachytherapy, a process of inserting radioactive implants into his prostate that's deemed better than prostate removal.

But before he received that treatment, Gonzmart, now 64, ran the 2014 Boston Marathon. Four days after the first of two brachytherapy procedures, he ran four miles.

Gonzmart grew determined not only to say he would survive and thrive in the face of cancer, but to show it, as well. He set his sights on joining his daughter Andrea in fall 2014 for three marathons — Rochester, N.Y., Chicago and New York City — and the St. Augustine half marathon.

Another obstacle was to come. He broke his tailbone in a freak car accident at his home. Despite the injury, he walked/ran with Andrea in all four events.

The highlight came in New York, where Richard and Andrea turned the marathon into a more leisurely pursuit, stopping for pizza in the Bronx, taking pictures of the bridges that connect the boroughs and having a beer at mile 20.

"We just enjoyed and embraced life, embraced doing something that everybody said we couldn't do. Until you've experienced that, you don't understand what life really means."

Gonzmart recreates the relaxing pleasantries of that New York afternoon and the sense of family at his annual Richard's Father's Day Family Walk/Jog, scheduled to start at 8 a.m. on June 18 at his Ulele restaurant and travel the Tampa Riverwalk.

"People say, 'I'm not really a runner,'" said Columbia chief marketing officer Michael Kilgore. "You don't have to be a runner. You can walk it. It's really a family-friendly event. It's a nice way to start Father's Day."

At the same time, the June 18 event will promote awareness of prostate testing and raise money for Moffit's prostate cancer research. In the last three years, the walk has raised more than $245,000.

It's just one more reason Gonzmart makes no secret of his cancer battle. He wants every father, for as long as possible, to enjoy family the same way he will on June 18.

That's all I'm saying.