I got an email this afternoon from a friend who has been going through some tough personal things. The email was framed as a thought for the day, and quoted at length Jim Valvano’s speech from the 1993 ESPY’s. I had two thoughts.
When I coached at Trinity Prep under my mentor, Matt Hixenbaugh, we played the speech for our players in it’s entirety. I am very proud of the coaching we did at Trinity on the floor, but even more what we taught off the floor. We were blessed with a very intelligent goup of players that fully absorbed the life lessons we exposed them to. I don’t believe I have coached another group quite like them.
My second thought was when I met Jim Valvano during his final season as a broadcaster. I was a senior at Florida State working as a volunteer in the sports information department. Basically, this meant I did random errands before, during and after the game, and had access to the media buffet in the bowels of the Tallahassee Civic Center. Ten years earlier, Valvano engineered on the greatest Cinderalla stories in March Madness history when his led NC State to the National Championship on an unintended alley-oop over a Houston team that featured hall of famers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The image of Valvano running around looking for someone to hug is immortal. By the time I reached the media buffet, Valvano was losing his battle to cancer, but for the thirty or so minutes I spent in the media buffet you couldn’t tell. Jimmy V told story and jokes to everyone at his table and soon everyone within earshot. The entire room was convulsing with laughter.
Shortly before the game, I was asked to deliver a name and number to Jimmy V. He was getting make up done just off the floor as I approached, I handed him the information and he looked at me drawn with sunken eyes, “what’s this a cure for cancer?” It was flat and weary and cynical, but it was real. By the time of the ESPY’s, Valvano was close to the end. He walked up to the podium, and left everyone who watched with something far more enduring than anything he did as a coach or broadcaster, and what my friend gave to me and everyone else on his thoughts for the day email list.
“…Now I’m fighting cancer, everybody knows that. People ask me all the time about “how do you go through your life?” or “how’s your day?” Well, nothing is changed for me. As Dick said, I’m a very emotional and passionate man. I can’t help it. That’s being the son of Rocco and Angelina Valvano. It comes with the territory. We hug, we kiss, we love. When people say to me how do you get through life or each day, it’s the same thing. To me, there are three things we all should do every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. We should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.
It’s so important to know where you are. I know where I am right now. How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work at it.
I just got one last thing. I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm,” to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.
I know, I gotta go, I gotta go, and I got one last thing and I said it before, and I want to say it again. Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. I cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.
Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”