Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I was in my early 20's when Jim Valvano passed away. While I did not follow college Hoops at that time, I DID have the distinct privilege of listening to the stirring speech Valvano delivered at the 1993 ESPY Awards. I was just flipping through the channels and there, on my screen, was Valvano. Sick as a dog, and I know from sick, you could just tell from looking at Valvano's eyes; here is a fighter.
Jimmy V's "Don't Ever Give Up" speech was, in essence, a deathbed sonata as the legendary coach passed away barely 2 months after delivering it. A brilliant and moving diatribe, few could have forseen it's outcome and "Don't Ever Give Up" resonates as strongly today as it did the morning after the award ceremony.
I think that after listening to "Don't Ever Give Up" again this morning, for ESPN Radio aired it while I was on my way in to the library, as opposed to ranking Fantasy Football's 4-Star Running Backs I will write about what I took away from the speech... what I preceive Valvano's message to be.

When he was just a teen, Jimmy V. apparently jotted down his life's goals on an index card. Valvano decided that he would play Basketball at the High School and College levels, he would progress through the ranks and become a Head Coach, he would win on the hallowed hardwood of Madison Square Garden and ultimately, Jimmy Valvano would have the rare honor of cutting down the net after winning a National Championship. The irrepressible coach of N.C. State accomplished all of these things when any 1 or 2 would've been sufficient for so many, and that in itself is worthy of our admiration. And yet, Valvano was so much more than a Basketball coach. The life-long friendship he shared with Duke coach and living legend Mike Krzyzewski underscores the values of Valvano; God, family, friendship. As great as Krzyzewski is, he credits Valvano for making him a better coach and person. Many can claim the same.

Generally speaking, I share very little of myself in this Blog... it's domain is limited to Baseball, Basketball, Football and the ancillary concerns of sports. But life IS sport and sport IS life, and those of you who have read my Blog before know that I place great faith in the power of competition. Accordingly, Jim Valvano's speech touched me in a way it might not have touched you.
I spent much of my childhood, and a large part of young adulthood, running back and forth to the hospital. Born with a serious Kidney defect, here I am some 85 surgeries later. I have been told on at least 3 occassions that I can recall that I nearly passed away due to complications from surgery or from Kidney infections that turned more sinister. And, in a way that only those who have been chronically ill can identify with, I embrace life... and the people in it, with both arms. I have learned to appreciate the little gifts life gives you each and every day; the quiet moments with my toddler nephews, the bright chirping that emanates from the bird nest situated somewhat perilously in my Dryer Intake Duct, and my wife's big brown eyes. Yes, that's another thing that I find wondrous; love. Life is short enough, and when factors beyond your immediate control conspire to shorten it even further? You learn to cling savagely to every single day.

Most of those who know me could'nt recognize that I had, and am always "thisclose" to being, seriously ill. I go to the gym 5 days a week, I could still compete as a Bodybuilder if I were so inclined (I entered several bodybuilding competitions because I never wanted to say "I wish I had"), and I make certain to eat properly. One learns to live a clean lifestyle in an effort to stay as healthy as possible.
Never, never, NEVER knuckle-under to illness! Once you do... life loses meaning and it becomes a very slippery slope. Fight illness with everything you have... for all of their degrees and experience, Doctors still know so little about the power of the human mind. Once, I drove a fever down from 105.5 to 102.7. That may not sound like much... but a prolonged fever of 105+ can cause brain damage. My mother, frantic with worry, flew from New York to Virginia (I was in college at the time and Virginia was where my specialist was located) in the middle of the night so that she could monitor my care and keep me company. I sincerely believe that the power of positive thinking helped my body surmount that terrible infection.
Again, I am not saying that those who've been blessed with good health aren't appreciative of life... I am simply stating that those who, at one time, forgot what it feels like to feel good... or those who nearly lost their lives prematurely have a different take on things.

Now, loving life, taking a moment out of every day to really "think," cherishing your friends and family... this is just 1 component of Jim Valvano's message.
Contrary to what we teach our kids today, not everyone is going to win. Sometimes... sometimes you lose, and that's just a fact. That said, few experiences convey more powerful lessons than the bitter taste of defeat. Indeed, even fewer experiences provide greater motivation and fuel the drive to succeed. Although we like to disseminate trophies to the "winners," trophies to the "runners-up," and ribbons for just "showing up," that's just NOT the way the world works. Frankly, we do a disservice to our children when we reward them for mediocrity. As adults, NO one gives you a pat on the back and a nice paycheck for just... showing up, right?
Sport is a microcosm of life for life IS the greatest, most meaningful competition. For the most part, those who work the hardest (I.E practice) reap the rewards. Although some can skate by on God-given ability, success in ANYTHING takes diligent work.
Do whatever it is you do to the best of your ability- take pride in your work. Unsatisfied with where you are? Complaining about your station in life will only give you ulcers. Don't hesitate to pursue education or "skills training." Can't make it to a campus? There are quite literally thousands of distance learning programs available to anyone. Change jobs or even pick up and move. The beauty of America is that you can start over someplace else virtually overnight.
While things are never quite so easy or as cut and dried, it's not impossible to forge a new life... and a new future, for you and yours.

Jimmy V.'s simple message (as I preceive it to be)... and what my life experience has taught me; please, please, please, pursue happiness and try to better the lives of those around you!

I sincerely apologize if some found this piece to be "preachy," but after listening to Valvano this morning I felt compelled to share some of my life with those of you who elect to frequent this Blog and can only hope that this piece inspires one of you to do something you might not normally do; take a minute to stop and smell a rose!


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