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Four teams receive 2021 Hero of Research Award

Relay For Life volunteers recognized for impacting cancer research.

The Hero of Research Award offers Relay For Life teams who raise at least $165,000 (in 2022 teams will need to raise $175,500) during the Relay season an opportunity to name an existing post-doctoral fellowship research grant in honor of a loved one or their team. Once identified, this named grant is active for three years. 

These four teams – St. James, Team Valenkamph, JW Marriott Marco Island, and Truckers Parade Against Cancer (TPAC) – earned this honor for their incredible fundraising efforts in 2021. Grants will be named this calendar year. 

Excitedly, Team Valenkamph and JW Marriott are renewing their grants earned in 2017. St. James and TPAC are first-time recipients of this honor and should be proud of their efforts each year. Let’s learn more about the teams and the grants they named! 

St. James

  • Grant name: St. James Community Research Project
  • Investigator: Jess Hebert, PhD
  • Institution: Stanford University, Stanford CA
  • Project title: Genetic Determinants of Immune Evasion by Metastatic Lung Cancer

St James Plantation, a retirement community taking up the fight for the ACS for decades, came through in an incredible way during 2021! Lead by team captain and longtime ACS volunteer, Liz Knapp, the team came together to ignite a movement to raise more money than ever before. St. James is not new to top performance. In 2018, members showed they were destined for greatness and the momentum has built year-after-year. The passion is what fuels them, and when ACS team members mentioned how close this group was to hitting Hero of Research Award status this summer, they did not stop and moved mountains to surpass the $166,000 level. 

Sheila Jones, a team member, shared with Executive Director Rachel Urban, “I lost my best friend when we were in our 30s to colon cancer. I was heart-broken, her husband was heart-broken, and her children were heart-broken. Now 30 years later, I fight back for her and I know we are making a difference.”

Team Valenkamph

  • Grant name: Nancy Valenkamph Cancer Foundation and Golf Outings
  • Investigator: Jennifer Yeung, PhD
  • Institution: Children’s Hospital Medical Center-Cincinnati
  • Project title: A Novel Role of MYC in Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Team Valenkamph Relay For Life team consists of one passionate, dedicated husband, Bert Valenkamph. He has raised more than $1 million since he organized his first Relay For Life team! 

The team has been participating in Relay For Life of Tippecanoe, IN, for the past 12 years. Bert’s golf outings reached Hero of Research status during the inaugural year of the award in 2017 and have continued to raise well over that each year. Bert was determined to reach the team's goal and earn a Hero of Research Award again this year and to hit $1 million collectively to become a Legacy Team. He has committed to his second million already. 

“I am really excited it is just amazing to have been involved with the first grant and now the second,” said Bert Valenkamph. “To have a chance to make a difference in the lives of others is just amazing!”

He chose to name the grant Nancy Valenkamph Cancer Foundation and Golf Outings in memory of his wife Nancy, whom he lost after she faced neuroendocrine carcinoma for three years.

JW Marriott Marco Island

  • Grant name: JW Marriott Marco Island’s Members Club
  • Investigator: Matthew Thompson, PhD
  • Institution: Duke University Medical Center
  • Project title: Defining the mechanism by which a novel m6A-binding protein shields cells from Immuno-stimulatory RNA

JW Marriott Marco Island’s Members Club has been hosting a golf tournament to raise money through their Relay For Life team since 2016, raising close to $1 million for ACS. The JW Marriott team has been active with the Relay for Life Marco Island since 2007 through its Spirit to Serve committee and they are a great partner in the community of Marco Island.


  • Grant name: Charlotte County, Virginia – TPAC
  • Investigator: Elliott SoRelle, PhD
  • Institution: Duke University Medical Center
  • Project title: Resolving the Origins of Restricted Fate in Epstein-Barr Virus-Infected B Lymphocyte Proliferation

For the TPAC team, raising money and funding cancer research continues to be a top priority; it all boils down to cancer research. Their fundraising is allowing us to help cancer patients and their families. This team wants to ensure that when a patient sees a doctor they are receiving the right treatment to give them a better quality of life. The Truckers’ Parade was started in memory of one special lady. If today's treatments had been available in 1997, she might have had the chance to see her grandchildren grow up - that’s the value of research.

(Pictured, from top to bottom are, Team Valenkamph, Team St. James, Team Valenkamph, and Team TPAC.)

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