2012 was a horrible year for Steve Mandel, his family, and friends. In March, Steve was nearly killed by a hit-and-run driver while stepping out of a New York City taxi in front of his apartment. He endured multiple surgeries and months of rehab to recover from a broken pelvis and ribs, torn ligaments in both legs, nerve damage partially paralyzing his left foot, knocked out teeth, numerous lacerations and more. It was a very difficult recovery, and the doctors were unsure whether the former athlete would ever walk normally, let alone play sports again.
Then, in July 2012, Steve got hit again—this time by the news that, during a follow-up MRI to see how his pelvic fractures were healing, the doctors spotted a chordoma tumor at the base of his spine.
“I knew nothing about chordoma, so I googled it and was devastated. I thought, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ I had come so far in my recovery from this near-fatal car accident, and right when I’m getting back on my feet, this happens.”
Online, Steve found the Chordoma Foundation, and connected with people who gave him insight on what to do and not to do and where to find the best doctors for this rare cancer. At Memorial Sloan Kettering, Dr. Patrick Boland, a surgeon who specializes in sacral chordomas, removed his tumor, several vertebrae in his spine and his tailbone. The surgery was a success, achieving a full resection and negative margin, but Steve still spent about 40 days in the hospital recovering, including his 25th birthday.
As soon as he got home, Steve set out on an ambitious mission: to get back on his feet and return to his pre-accident/cancer physical condition, and to help the Chordoma Foundation in any way he could. Steve’s two best friends from childhood, Matt Sauerhoff and Jon Denning, are also athletes, and together they decided to run a half-marathon as a fundraising event.
Steve, who had never run a race in his life and was still healing from a year’s worth of trauma and surgeries, began training. In 2014, he and his friends completed his first half-marathon in Miami and raised over $20,000. The next year, they ran in Miami again. This time, Steve shaved 25 minutes off his time and finished in the top 350 out of 13,000 runners (and top 50 in his age group)—and raised another $50,000 for the Chordoma Foundation. He has also raised funds for the Foundation outside of the races since 2012 and personally contributes on an ongoing basis.
In May 2016, Steve and his growing team of supporters will run the Brooklyn Half Marathon. The New Jersey native, who now lives in London where he works at a private equity firm, hopes this location will make it easier for friends and family in the Northeast to participate, and make it possible to raise more money. Already, 25 friends, family members and coworkers have signed up to run, and still others are volunteering to help with the event, which will also include an evening celebratory reception.
2016 is looking to be a great year for another reason: This summer Steve will be best man at the two weddings of Matt and Jon, the friends who have been running at his side. Now Steve will stand beside each of them just as they have stood by him.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Steve says. “I had my tumor removed and I am doing well. I’m in the best shape of my life. But a lot of people dealing with chordoma don’t have a fate like mine, so this event is about trying to make the lives of everyone affected by chordoma better.”
Since this article was initially published, Steve and team have successfully completed another three half marathon fundraisers, raising nearly $200,000. Steve has also expanded his fundraising efforts abroad, helping another Chordoma affected family raise over $30,000 by organizing a team in the UK to run the Cardiff Half Marathon in October 2017. In November, 2017 Steve joined the Board of Directors of the Chordoma Foundation. He is currently preparing to run the Brooklyn Half Marathon in May, 2019.