Reelin' for Research angles to land a cure

A man's love of family and fishing creates a legacy of hope for pediatric cancer research at UNC Children's.

Support Reelin' for ResearchWhen Tony Montana was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in October 2004, the spiritual man with a dry sense of humor decided not to fight. He knew what the battle would look like—he’d watched a great-nephew struggle with bone cancer—and the price was more than he wanted to pay. Rather than grapple with treatment and its debilitating side effects, Montana decided to spend the last nine months of his 72 years focused on what mattered most to him in all the world: his family.

“Dad, in one word, was a teacher,” says Richard Montana of his late father. “He taught us how to fish, because it was something he loved to do. I think Dad knew it was something we could always do together, no matter the age or ability. It’s not just about catching the fish but the journey together.”

Tony Montana teaching his son, Richard, to fish at age 3. Click to enlarge.
It seemed fitting then—maybe even meant to be—when Richard Montana’s high school buddies proposed holding an off-shore fishing tournament in Tony Montana’s memory. And Richard knew immediately where his father would have wanted the money to go.

“Dad felt like the ones who get cheated the most with this disease and pain are the children,” says Richard of his father’s final days and the decision to use the tournament's proceeds to advance childhood cancer research. “And I think UNC was an obvious choice for many reasons. For one, Dad always joked he did not go to Carolina but named his son so he would have the initials ‘RAM.’”

Stuart Gold, MD, UNC Children's chief of hematology-oncology, remembers learning about the proposed tournament for the first time.

"These young folks came in—at least young relative to me—with this idea of having a fishing tournament to support the research in pediatric oncology, and they were absolutely delightful," recalls Dr. Gold. "I thought they were full of it," he continues, a knowing smile on his face, "but I thought it would be a nice venture. It probably wouldn’t go very far, but they were so enthusiastic and lovely. From day one you could tell their heart was in it."

Reelin’ for Research, as the event came to be called, was set for the first weekend of May in 2009 with a modest goal of $10,000. Friends asked friends, the message was passed around to work colleagues and family members alike, and everyone was asked to make a pledge and keep the message circulating. At the conclusion of the inaugural tournament, much to everyone's surprise, more than $27,000 had been raised for childhood cancer research at UNC.

Even better, 2009 was just the beginning of an annual tradition. Reelin' for Research's successes continued year after year, leading to something no one—not even Richard, and especially not Dr. Gold—would have ever dreamed possible: at the conclusion of the sixth annual event in May 2014, Reelin' for Research had raised a cumulative total of $1,003,000.

The 2014 tournament raised $429,000 for pediatric cancer research. Click to enlarge.
The money raised supports UNC's pediatric oncology fellows, doctors engaged in post-residency training to become subspecialists who care for children with cancer and, in this case, conduct research to help prevent or better treat childhood cancer. 

"What they're really doing is giving us the next generation of people who are going to care for children with cancer and blood disorders, which is phenomenal," explains Dr. Gold.

Jacob Troutman, DO, is the 2014-2015 Tony Montana Fellow.

“This event helps me continue my research,” explains Dr. Troutman, who studies Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that most often affects teens, in the lab of Ian Davis, MD, PhD. “When you know you have funds available or someone supporting you in the lab, it makes everything so much better, and it drives you to get the results you need to get.”

The Montana family and their close friends see Reelin' for Research as a poignant legacy for a man who meant so much to so many.

"God works in mysterious ways at times, and with the passing of Dad, something good has come out of it—I know it's weird to say. It definitely carries on his memory," says Richard, his eyes tearing. "He would be smiling down and giving us all a big pat on the back."

Help Reelin' for Research land a cure for childhood cancer

The seventh annual Reelin' for Research tournament, casts off from the Morehead City waterfront the weekend of May 1, 2015.

  • Learn more. Reelin' for Research will hold kick-off parties in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Atlantic Beach, where potential participants can learn more about the tournament.
  • Register. Assemble a crew of up to six anglers and raise $1,000 for your entry fee through sponsorships from family and friends. Personal boats are welcome and charters can be coordinated.
  • Make a gift. If you can't attend the tournament or are prone to seasickness, show your support with a donation to this worthy cause.