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“When you have a dream and you love each other and keep believing in a dream, you can accomplish miracles!” – Jim Valvano talking about the 1983 North Carolina Championship Basketball Team

It’s no secret that I’m a diehard fan of Coach “V” as one would surmise from my repeated use of the quotes from and references to him.  Maybe one would think it’s because I was witness to the sports miracle that was accomplished when he led his 1983 NC State basketball team on the most unlikely and magical run to the NCAA tournament finals where they upset a vastly more talented Houston team (two future NBA hall of gamers) in the greatest upset in tournament history.

Now come on, it’s just sports which certainly produces so many amazing storylines and admittedly, this one is certainly more memorable by how it remains as part of our sport’s culture to this day as an inspiration to underdogs and afterthoughts in not just sports, but all areas of society.  But sports moments are just that, snapshots of a particular portal of competitive endeavors that we get reminded of, generally when the appropriate circumstances warrants its introduction into our psyche in some manner and degree.

Still in its overall affect, did it inspire me to change the way I approach life?  Well I am certain it did in the lessons I’ve used to guide and motivate my children when challenged and by extension, what I’m authoring now.  Or, did it help to improve the treatment of something like cancer for countless patients afflicted with the disease?  Well we know it did by the growth and contributions of the “Jimmy V Foundation” that he created after his life was ruthlessly assaulted, and before it was taken, by cancer.  But here’s what has to be recognized: had that 1983 sports storyline not been created, it’s likely the birth of the “legend” and fame of “Coach V” would not have emerged to give birth to his organization when it was established and its astronautical growth thereafter.  That foundation came about too late to save his life or my parents lives, but in a miraculous twist to his legacy, the byproduct of its research and the evolution of cancer treatment saved his daughter’s life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer years later.

I ponder this quote by Thurl Bailey, a player from that 1983 team, in reflecting back on his former coach as one of the most beautiful expressions of praise that any man could ever hope to be described or remembered as by those who reflect upon their knowledge of that existence.  “Everything he accomplished and everything he was as a person is the essence of the man!”.  If only I should be so fortunate to be honored with similar accounting of my days here in my particular universe but hey, I’m still making a conscious effort and I’m constantly an evolving work in progress.

So in my mind it’s about the collective and enduring power of the man who turned out to be more than just a basketball coach beyond that victory in 1983.  It’s exponentially about his words, the way he lived, the people he touched and inspired, and his final acts before he died, that profoundly separated himself to be among the upper echelon of immensely extraordinary humans that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.

Now back to “Coach V’s” influence; you have to remember that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer leading to an abundance of tumors that spread throughout his body but still his final goal remained to his dying day, as reflected in a note he wrote to himself that was accidentally found in the pocket of his dry cleaning by his wife was, to “beat cancer”!  He did that, maybe not in his own individual quest but for the thousands of others he impacted through the man he was, whose lives he affected during his lifetime, and whose lives he SAVED through the work of the “V Foundation” including his daughter as noted above.  I mean it’s one thing to give birth to a child but what greater accomplishment can be achieved by a parent than being personally responsible for saving his/her physical life and in a way, gifting them with another?

What a legacy (or maybe that’s just me)!  I can say I was blessed to watch that championship game and the ones that were televised during that magical run when I was so much younger and not insulated from its impact due to the abundance of information available these days that leads to an overindulgence of stimulation that can negate our awareness of what’s happening right in front of our eyes.  But goodness gracious sakes alive, I’m so much older and I needed someone like “Coach V” back then and still need my memory of him morphing into something greater than that one tournament to keep my eyes on the prizes that continue to happen in front of these eyes!  Otherwise I might have gone crazy or emotionally diluted by too many of the things introduced in my life that could have overwhelmed that vision.

I may f’ing hate cancer for taking both my parents but my hope and faith in life’s possibilities, probabilities, and likelihoods is still strong by how they fought it, and through “Coach V’s” efforts that have carried on well beyond each of their passings, because I’m still here to better my existence to honor them.  It’s because of my hope and faith in most things that I still battle to garner every ounce I can from the things that feed my optimism for each day I have been given while I step over or around the pratfalls that produce disillusion and negativity because, they too often introduce themselves to try to steal life’s basic, simple, elegance that I choose to believe in.

So God gave me another day to persevere in how I want to live it and I thank Him because it allows me to build on “the essence of the man” I want to be.  A work in progress?  Yep, but my destiny at least has a better direction from those that have and continue to inspire me like my parents, “Coach V”, and anyone who makes a contribution towards whatever remarkable conclusion I systematically strive to achieve.

So I’ll end with one last quote because it’s a favorite and one I use as a reminder of how I want to see what’s ahead of me: “We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naive to work toward a better one.” – Steven Pinker