Where were you?

Where were you when__________ happened? We hear that question all the time when it comes to historical moments. The miracle on ice in 1980, Kerri Strug’s epic vault (I was there) or Dale Earnhardt’s crash at Daytona.

But there is another moment.

One that many don’t realize almost didn’t happen.

Below are the insights from Pam Valvano Strasser and Jamie Valvano Howard.

From Pam

We rode on the plane with the Krzyzewskis and everyone was talking about basketball. But at that time, I knew that Jim was having a hard time and often getting sick. While we were on the plane, Jim suddenly got sick and I didn’t know what to do, so I just opened up my tote bag and that was it.

We got to the hotel, and he was really feeling ill. After talking back and forth with the doctors at Duke, I got a prescription from a local pharmacist. He was very sick that day and in my mind, I thought how is he going to be able to give a speech. He said to me, “I don’t think I am going to be able to speak.” I said to him, “That is okay, just tell them thank you and you can sit down.” Jim continued, “I’m afraid I’ll cry.”

We were sitting there listening to Dustin Hoffman introduce Dick Vitale who then introduced Jim. And the rest was history. I guess the adrenaline took over and Jim ended up giving what I believe is a speech of a lifetime.

It was an emotional day for all of us. What was so amazing to me is that once he started you never would have known how sick he was.


From Jamie 

We begged him not to go.  He was having difficulty climbing the stairs at home, and yet he wanted to travel to New York to accept an award.  I will never know where he got the strength to fight the pain and sickness.   Tumors grew all over his body, his skin took on a grayish hue, and he needed the assistance of a wheel chair to walk even the shortest of distances.  Over the past 8 months cancer had taken a toll on his body, and yet his spirit grew stronger with each passing day.

My Dad had written not a word of the speech that he would deliver at the inaugural ESPY Awards.  I imagined with assistance he might be able to make it on stage and whisper a quick “thank you” to the audience.  Part of me wished that the world could just remember him so full of life wildly running around the basketball court after cutting down the nets.

That night my father spoke the words that he had been preparing all of his life.  I was used to him provoking laughter and inspiration, but the vulnerability and pain overshadowed by his courage took my breath away.  After returning to his seat, he took my hand and whispered, “Did I do okay?” 

As a daughter and cancer survivor I will carry the memories of that night with me forever, but I continue to be astounded by the individuals from all over the country that have been changed by his words. Just a few months ago I was reminded again of the impact of the ESPY speech.   The middle school where I teach has the “Don’t Give Up . . . Don’t Ever Give Up” quote painted on the gymnasium wall.  When I shared with my students that I was Jimmy V’s daughter, one girl became teary.  She revealed that every year her entire family watches the ESPY speech to celebrate her Dad remaining cancer free.   

Each day at work I make it a habit of going by the gym.  I touch his quote, look to the sky, and tell him the same words I spoke that evening, “Dad, you did more than okay!”