Nick Tiller, a fund manager at SAC Capital Advisors LP, counts among his greatest investments a $50,000 donation to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
The gift three years ago helped the charity become the title sponsor of the Empire State Building Run-Up, an annual race up the 86 flights of stairs from the tower’s lobby to its observation deck. The 36th edition of the race takes place tonight.
The foundation expects to raise about $500,000 through 125 runners this year, according to Alicia O’Neill, its director of endurance events. That would bring its fundraising total at the race to $1.4 million since Tiller’s donation.
“I thought it was a unique, iconic event and I was willing to take the risk of whether it flopped or not,” Tiller said in a telephone interview. “The part I did was the easiest.”
At least 600 runners from 18 countries are scheduled to race up 1,576 steps to the outdoor deck atop midtown Manhattan’s tallest building. Organized by the New York Road Runners, the race begins at 8 p.m. local time with the elite groups, followed by three-member corporate teams, the MMRF runners and waves of individuals.
Thomas Dold of Germany will try for his eighth consecutive victory in the elite men’s race, and the elite women’s event will feature four-time champion Cindy Harris of the U.S. and three-winner Suzy Walsham of Australia. The record is 9 minutes, 33 seconds, set in 2003.
Tiller, 40, ran the New York City Marathon for the myeloma foundation in 2009 and is friends with Kathy Giusti, the organization’s founder. He said he became more involved with the charity after developing a friendship with a colleague’s father who died in 2011, 18 years after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer that affects the bone marrow.
Unable to race tonight because of an ankle injury, Tiller said he will hold the finish-line tape for MMRF runners. He’s also set up a website with news about the foundation’s work and updates on the race.
“It’s amazing how people respond to this race,” Tiller said. “When you tell them about it, people instantly say, ‘I want to do that next year. That sounds like such a cool thing.’”
The event was invitation only before Tiller helped MMRF become the title sponsor prior to the 2011 race. O’Neill declined to say how much the foundation pays for its backing, but said Tiller’s donation was essential.
“There’s only one Empire State Building and to have access to this platform to raise money for this foundation is huge,” she said. “It goes beyond supporting people connected to the disease. It’s a way to reach new people and share with them the work we’re doing.”
The MMRF’s endurance events program participates in about 20 races a year, including marathons in New York, Boston and London. O’Neill said at least 500 people from as far away as Turkey and China applied for slots on the foundation team for tonight’s race.
Brian Kuritzky, an associate at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., was the event’s top fundraiser last year with $85,000 in donations. He said the MMRF has a unique approach to cancer research that should spread to other foundations.
“The innovative ways they’re pairing clinicians with researchers and academia, to have everybody at the same table to find out what works and what doesn’t, it’s different from a lot of other charities and how they go about it,” Kuritzky, 26, said in a telephone interview.
The race raised $650,000 last year for MMRF and other charities and is expecting around $600,000 this year, according to the NYRR.
Mary Wittenberg, NYRR’s chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview that she didn’t participate in the race for 10 years, the result of a busy schedule, before returning to it in 2012.
“Not only is it a physical challenge, but there’s a real mental fear factor in the concept of running up the Empire State Building,” she said.
Kuritzky trained by running up a friend’s 33-floor apartment building in downtown Manhattan. He said he’s been overwhelmed by the support he’s received from friends, family members and colleagues at Goldman.
“So many people just need someone to contact them and say, ‘Hey, this is something I feel passionately about, it’s a good cause and I think your contribution could do a lot of good,’” he said. “People jump at those opportunities.”