Cancer Can’t Compete: Wall Street Readies For RBC Decathlon

Jul 11 2012 | 3:47pm ET

Justin Nunez was crowned Wall Street’s Best Athlete in the 2011 RBC Decathlon and he intends to retain his title in 2012.

The investment manager, who competed for Goldman Sachs last year, will represent a new firm—PAMLI Capital Management—this year, but his reasons for taking part in the event, which raises money for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s pediatric cancer research, remain unchanged:

“I think, first and foremast, cancer has definitely impacted me personally,” Nunez told FINalternatives. “I lost my grandmother in 2006 to ovarian cancer. We were very close and so an opportunity to compete for a great cause…to raise money and awareness…was an opportunity I was excited to participate in.”

The Decathlon is the brainchild of Dave Maloney and Marc Hodulich, both of whose mothers are breast cancer survivors. The two founded the competition in 2009 to harness the competitiveness of Wall Street for a good cause.

“The event is somewhat modeled on the Olympic Decathlon,” says Maloney, “but it has a special flavor.” The 10 events are a 400-meter run, an 800-meter run, a 40-yard dash, a football throw, pull-ups, dips, a 500-meter row, a vertical jump, a five-cone drill and a bench press.

Nunez names pull-ups as his best event and the 500-meter row as his “most challenging.”

Clinton Biondo of Fir Tree Partners, who won the 30-39 age category last year, told FINalternatives he also considered pull-ups his strong suit. “I am not nearly as big as some of the ex-football guys,” said Biondo, “so body-weight events tend to favor leaner guys like myself.” Biondo characterizes the Decathlon as “a terrific cause” and says “the ability to get back into shape with a goal in mind has been pretty exciting.”

Jacob Chase of Angelo, Gordon & Co, who will compete for the second time this year, is looking forward “the opportunity to test a range of my physical abilities in a formal, competitive environment….helping to support MSKCC, representing myself and my firm in the Wall Street community, and building on the camaraderie and support in my donor network.”

Unlike Nunez, Chase says he’s looking forward to the 500-meter row: “It’s a serious gut-check for about a minute and a half, and what I think is probably the most physically taxing of the 10 events. It is all mind over body on this one, and is the event I’m most counting on for a good performance.”

All three expect the competition to be stiff. “Seemingly every year, the event gets bigger and better,” said Biondo. “As word has gotten out, it has increasingly drawn better, more prepared athletes.  I’ll be happy just to stay competitive this upcoming year!”

As reigning champion, Nunez knows people will be “gunning” for him—particularly, he says, Brad Bagdis of Knight Capital Group, who finished third last year. Bagdis, a former Harvard University football captain, confirmed as much earlier this year, telling Bloomberg, “It’s a bit of a rivalry. I played football against Nunez when he was at Columbia.”

Nunez also expects a challenge from Doug Schlack, a junior broker at BGC Partners, who finished fifth last year and who hopes to match his brother Chris’ overall victory in the 2010 Decathlon.

In addition to the overall winner and winners of individual events and age categories there a number of other awards given, including the title, “Best Quarterback on Wall Street” to the winner of the football throw. In addition, the winner of that event gets a chance to throw a 25-yard pass, hit a target and win an Aston Martin, says Maloney. This year’s Decathlon will also, for the first time, name a winning team. Maloney says a team will consist of three people from the same firm, two competing in three events each and one competing in four.

But the competition doesn’t end on the field—there will also be awards for what Maloney calls “fundraising prowess.” And much of the fun of the event, he says, comes from Wall Street doing what it does best—betting.

“We…allow guys to assess, ultimately, the risk of their counterparts competing in this event,” says Maloney. “You literally bet on the athletes in the competition, the same way you would bet on the Kentucky Derby, except all of the wagers go to pediatric cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It’s a way that galvanizes firms to back, more or less their horse in the race and it makes it very exciting.”

Maloney says Mark Standish, co-CEO of RBC Capital Markets, already has a number of bets riding on the RBC team’s performance: “He thinks RBC will be top fundraising firm, that RBC will win team competition,” says Maloney. Standish is also betting the record in 800-meter dash will be broken this year while another big donor has $100,000 that says it will be the 400-meter record that falls.

This year’s RBC Decathlon takes place July 29, at Columbia University. Registration is limited to 150 competitors who must pledge to raise $3,000. The event kicks off at 8 a.m.

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