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Celebrities, Athletes Raise $10 Million For Paralysis Research At Midtown Benefit

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Ernie Els, Nancy Kerrigan, Jerry Rice, Harry Carson, Marc Buoniconti, Andre Dawson, John Force, Wayne Newton and Nick Buoniconti attend the 26th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner to benefit the Buoniconti Fund To Cure Paralysis at The Waldorf=Astoria. (credit: Thos Robinson/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund)

Ernie Els, Nancy Kerrigan, Jerry Rice, Harry Carson, Marc Buoniconti, Andre Dawson, John Force, Wayne Newton and Nick Buoniconti attend the 26th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner to benefit the Buoniconti Fund To Cure Paralysis at The Waldorf=Astoria. (credit: Thos Robinson/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund)

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By Julie Parise, CBSNewYork.com

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – It was a glamorous night at the Waldorf=Astoria Monday, as legends from the sports and entertainment world gathered at an event which raised over $10 million for paralysis research.

The 26th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner benefited the Buoniconti Fund To Cure Paralysis.

Honored at the banquet were athletes who have long supported the cause: NFL greats Jerry Rice and Don Shula, golfer Ernie Els and Olympians Nancy Kerrigan and Carl Lewis.

Famed announcer Bob Costas hosted the evening, which included a surprise performance by Motown superstar Diana Ross.

Also present was former St. John’s great and five-time NBA all-star Chris Mullin, Las Vegas legend Wayne Newton and former Real Housewives of New York star Kelly Bensimon.

As a college football player in 1985, the Citadel’s Marc Buoniconti was convinced it was his destiny to one day play in the NFL, just like his father, Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti.

That is, until a gametime tackle turned tragic and the young Buoniconti suffered a spinal injury on the field. The incident nearly took his life. Instead, it took just enough of it to render him a quadriplegic.

Twenty-five years later, however, it is clear the horrendous twist of fate didn’t take his spirit.

Buoniconti held back tears Monday night as he addressed those in attendance and spoke of his dashed NFL dreams. According to him, it took the horrific, life-changing event to show him what his destiny truly was.

“Now I know for sure what I was meant to do with my life,” he said. “I was meant to cure paralysis.”

The Buonicontis helped to found the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in 1985. Several years later, in 1992, the Buonicontis founded an additional non-profit organization to assist the Project, which continues to raise millions each year.

Julie Parise is the features editor for CBSNewYork.com.

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