In Their Own Words: Dick Vitale

The V Foundation is successful thanks to the contributions of many: donors, corporate partners, our incredible Board and Scientific Advisory Committee and the amazing researchers to whom we award grants. With “In Their Own Words,” we sit down with key members of our team to learn more about their commitment to the V Foundation and their personal desire to put an end to cancer. In this edition, we chat with the legendary Dick Vitale.

The V Foundation: Tell us your favorite Jimmy V story.

Dick Vitale: My favorite story about Jimmy V?  I can tell so many. Jimmy was one of the funniest people I had ever been around. He could make you laugh. He used to light up a room like you couldn’t believe. Jimmy had an incredible personality and I always felt that he could have been Jerry Seinfeld before Seinfeld, that he belonged on a sitcom. But I’ll never forget this one story. One that always stands out to me is when he was playing North Carolina. He was coaching at North Carolina State and they were beating the heck out of the Tar Heels. They were winning convincingly and I kept saying the last four or five minutes, “Don’t leave us! Don’t leave us! Dean Smith is a Michelangelo, he’s an artist at work, he’s a coaching superstar at North Carolina, his teams are never out of it!” And I kept going on and on. Well ultimately, North Carolina State prevailed- they won the game and Jimmy was on cloud nine, obviously. Early the next morning, when I was getting ready to get a flight to go back home, the phone rings and its Jimmy V. He started screaming, “You were supposed to be my buddy! All I heard that whole last five minutes was “Dean Smith’s a Michelangelo, he’s an artist at work, but nothing about me!” And I’m laughing hysterically because I know he was busting my chops. He was just such a funny guy. When I think of Jimmy Valvano, I don’t think of that championship, him cutting the nets down, or winning the National Title. I think about his legacy. All of the dollars we’ve raised in his name have affected generation after generation, year after year, helping so many people. To me, that’s what Jimmy V’s about and that’s what a winner of the game of life is about: affecting other people’s lives. And he’s done that so well.

TVF: Why are you so passionate about helping kids dealing with cancer?

DV: Anyone that’s a father, a grandfather, or a human being, really, never wants to see a child suffer. There has been a number of youngsters who have come to our Gala over the years that have really had to battle big time. I think about Joshua Fisher, 1200 doses of chemotherapy. He’s now cancer free. I think about Jake Taraska, who was told he would possibly never walk again, maybe not even live because he was battling neuroblastoma. Today, Jake is playing college baseball. I think about Kyle Peters, battling brain cancer. He’s now cancer free, graduating high school and going off to college. I think about Cole Eicher, who does an amazing job raising dollars up in the Tampa Bay area, where he works hand-in-hand with the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team for pediatric cancer. I think about people who have been doing this from day one like Tatum Parker, unbelievable two-time cancer survivor. She goes to the hospitals in Indianapolis where she lives. Every time there’s a new trial she goes in with Tatum’s Bags of Fun, these bags that are loaded with all kinds of toys and goodies ready for the kids there. She’s just a special young lady and again, she went through a real battle. She can’t do enough, just like all these kids, to help other kids battling this disease because they know what it is for their families and for them to deal with the chemo and the radiation. It has amazed me over the year to see all of these courageous people who have battled and yet they still have a smile on their face and they can’t do enough to offer a helping hand to others.

TVF: Your Gala raises millions each year to fund pediatric cancer research. Why is funding the V Foundation so important?

DV: The V Foundation has so many dedicated people who are passionate and determined to do all that they can to raise dollars for cancer. I think the one thing that really excited me about the V Foundation raising money for cancer is that every dollar goes to research. Nothing goes toward administrative costs or anything. The foundation covers all of that. That’s what makes it even better. It has the highest rating from Charity Navigator which rates foundations and it’s got a four-star rating. It’s the incredible people involved who are unbelievably passionate about what they’re doing. They love what they’re doing and I am just proud as can be to be a little spoke in the wheel and a member of the Board of Directors for the V Foundation.

TVF: Your friend John Saunders was also a strong advocate for pediatric cancer research. What do you want people to remember about him?

DV: What I want people to remember about John is that you’re talking about an incredible humanitarian. A guy that loved people. A guy that couldn’t do enough for people. For years, he was the emcee of our event. It will be a very emotional night knowing that John will not be in the house with us at the Gala. John was just as good as a person could ever be. John was as good as it gets and I am so happy and proud at the unreal response when we decided to have a research grant in John’s name because I watched him with all of the kids at the Gala. You could see the genuine feelings he had for them, smiling and hugging them. I know that John, up in Heaven right now, would be absolutely thrilled to know that we are going to have three research grants in his name and his family is going to receive the V Foundation award as well. My goal was to reach $250,000 in John’s name and it went over $600,000 which shows you a little about the legend he was, how many lives were so unbelievably touched by him, and how they came in big time with donations on behalf of his life.

TVF: What does a victory over cancer look like to you?

DV: Victory over cancer would be something incredible. I know one thing and that is I’m not going to quit. I’m going to use my every last breath that I have, begging and pleading to people that make donations to help us every way possible to end the dreaded disease that destroys so many beautiful people. It not only effects the person that is diagnosed with cancer. The entire family suffers as they watch the pain and suffering their loved one is going through. If we had a victory, I would be ecstatic. It may not happen in my lifetime, but eventually when people work like the V Foundation does…someway, somehow, there will be that magical headline “The cure for cancer has been found!” and that would be absolutely awesome baby with a capital A!