The father-daughter story that is inspiring millions…

{Source: Devon Still's IG}
{Source: Devon Still’s IG}

 

Sports have divided us for years. The dynasties vs. the non dynasties. The haves vs. the have nots. The winners vs. the losers. Every once in a while, the tide shifts and rivalries are set aside as fans unite to lend support, encouragement and prayers to those who give so much to the game. There was the late Lou Gehrig, the late Jim Valvano, the late Kay Yow and the late Tony Gwynn. Recently, there has been Chuck Pagano, Pat Summitt, Stuart Scott, Jim Kelly and Lauren Hill. Then there is Leah Still…

Like most of you, I first heard of Leah this summer right after her father, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle, Devon Still was released from the team. What we would all soon find out is that their reason for releasing him was due to the fact that Leah is battling a rare form of pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma. Still came to the conclusion that in order to provide Leah with the care she needed, he would walk away from football. In one of the classiest moves ever by a professional sports organization, the Bengals informed Still that after being cut they would resign him to their practice squad. This move allowed Still to continue to receive health insurance thus ensuring Leah would receive the treatment she needs. Her medical expenses are expected to exceed $1 million and the NFL will cover 100 percent of the costs. A standing ovation is allowed at this moment.

The story spread rapidly. During a summer that was plagued with stories of domestic violence and child abuse, this gesture by the Bengals was a breath of fresh air. In an industry where the phrase, “It’s just business,” sours relationships and throws lives onto an emotional rollercoaster, it brought a smile to my face to see the powers that be put aside any thoughts of what can you do for me to view Still as what he is: human.

As news of the Bengals decision took over the news mediums, the organization took it a step further. Days after being signed to the practice squad, Still was upgraded to the active roster. After signing him to the 53 man team, the Bengals announced that they would donate all proceeds from the sale of Still’s number 75 jersey to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research. Within 24 hours, Still’s jersey set a record for the most sales during that time span in Bengals history. Another standing ovation is allowed at this moment.

Not only have fans stepped up to the plate but different NFL organizations, players and sports figures have as well. The Philadelphia Eagles sent Leah toys and a basket full of goodies. New Orleans Saints Head Coach, Sean Payton, purchased 100 Still jerseys(in sizes small and medium) and donated them to the Pediatric Care Hospital in Cincinnati. Hall of Famer, Jim Kelly, who was recently went into remission, sent Leah and Devon a personal note along with an autographed football and jersey. Commentators have been photographed holding up signs with the moniker Still wears under his eyes and across the bridge of his nose every game, “Leah Strong.” And perhaps one of the biggest tearjerkers took place on October 5 during the Sunday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and the Bengals. During the third quarter, as a video tribute to Leah and other children battling cancer played on the big screen, the Patriots cheerleaders unzipped their jackets to reveal the fact that they were wearing Still’s number jersey underneath. The cheerleaders had taken a page out of the owner, Robert Kraft’s, book who announced he would make a $25,000 donation to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Leah’s name. Yep. Worthy of another standing ovation.

This is what I love about sports. The camaraderie. The selflessness. The unity. As I watched the Bengals take on the Cleveland Browns last night, I smiled. I smiled because I knew that Leah was attending her first NFL game. I smiled because I had seen pictures of her in her Still jersey, adorned with rhinestones as she posed for pictures with the Bengals cheerleaders. I smiled through the tears as cameras caught the touching moment between daughter and father as Leah waved emphatically, from her suite, at her father on the field. And remember those jerseys fans and supporters eagerly purchased? The Bengals, with Leah on the field, presented a check for $1.3 millions dollars to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital last nigh in her name. You know what to do. Standing o.

Whenever you have a moment, say a prayer for Leah, her father, all the little ones battling this disease and their families. Often times, for as much as their little bodies are having to bear, they tend to light up the room. Their “I can beat this” and “One day at a time” attitudes serve as a reminder to us to never give up. We have a lot of fight in us if we are willing to tap into it. In the midst of this ordeal, both Leah and her father have been very inspiring. His Instagram(man_of_still75) posts are filled with positivity, gratitude and love. Still offers up a glimpse of his relationship with his daughter. He gives her pep talks, she beat boxes and dances and they both enjoy life in the now. I admire the strength of this little four year old warrior and I pray that her strength will carry her into a life of remission. Continue to live “Leah Strong” babygirl! We are all rooting for you!

 

Jimmy V to Stuart Scott: #DontEverGiveUp

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You 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.” ~Jimmy V

 

I had a full day yesterday. Jimmy V would be proud. I laugh daily. My mind is constantly bombarded with thoughts. However, I do not allow myself to be moved to tears on a daily basis. Mainly because I do not always allow myself time to really sit down and reflect on the things that would bring tears to my eyes. When you hear the word tears, most of us immediately equate them with sadness. Often, when I do cry, it is not because I am sad. Most times I cry out of thankfulness. Thankfulness for my relationship I have with GOD. Thankfulness for my family and friends. Thankfulness for the life I have been blessed to live. In a sense, every day I should be moved to tears because every day I have something to be thankful for.

As I watched my favorite awards show, the ESPYs, last night I was reminded how truly blessed I am every day I am above ground. I watched as athlete after athlete graced the stage to thank countless people who helped them achieve the success they are experiencing. However, despite all the fan voted awards that are given, the award I anticipate the most is the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.

March 4, 1993. The day Coach Jim Valvano delivered a speech that would change how many viewed life. I was nine years old and very much oblivious to the fact that one of the sports worlds most beloved personalities was fighting the battle of his life. As tumors laid rage on his body, Jimmy V issued a challenge to everyone. He only needed seven words, with three of them being repeated twice, to put many on a path to living a life of destiny: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” On that night, as Jimmy V stood giant-like and announced the formation of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, lives of people all across the country and world were being intertwined.

The late Coach Kay Yow. Kevin Everett. Don Meyer. George Karl. Anthony Robles. Eric LeGrand. Dick & Rick Hoyt. Stuart Scott. Some names are recognizable while others are not. What they all have in common is that they share the honor of being recognized with the Jimmy V Award. In 2007, I cried a river as I watched a woman whom I had the privilege to share words, hugs and gather pearls of wisdom from, Coach Yow, accept the award that beared the name of her late friend. I love hearing the stories of people who have overcome or are overcoming obstacles that stand in their way. They are no different than you and I.

Last night, as I watched Scott eloquently describe his fight against the c word, I was moved to tears. My day was complete. I watched as Scott beamed with joy over the fact that “Jack Bauer” presented him with his award. I was watched as Scott proudly talked about the support he has received from his employers and colleagues. I watched as Scott dropped the bombshell on us that he had just been released from a grueling seven day hospital stay three days earlier. Words cannot describe the amount of respect I have for this man. I watched as Scott laid out for us, firmly, his motivation for never giving up: his daughters. As he called for his daughter, Taylor, to join him on stage, I fell apart. Over 3,000 miles away I could feel the love between them as they embraced. As my eyes fell on my yellow bracelet on my arm, the same one that Scott wears regularly, I was reminded that we are all in this together.

{Source: Twitter}
{Source: Twitter}

Something was different about this year’s ESPYs. Maybe it was the fact that everyone’s Twitter handle associated with ESPN was changed to the V Foundation logo for the day. Maybe it was the fact that the ESPYs was honoring one of its most popular anchors. Or maybe its just the fact that as times goes on, I have become more in tune with what really tugs at my heart strings. From Scott’s moving speech where he told us how to beat cancer to US Veteran and hero, Jeff Sweeney, accepting the Pat Tillman Award for Service, the show was full of heroes who embody the spirit of never giving up.

As I rewound the broadcast to watch Scott’s speech again, I flashbacked to a scene that took place about seven years ago in Chapel Hill. I was invited to Late Night with Roy by a member of my extended family. In true Kassie fashion, I ventured over the enemy territory sporting North Carolina State red from almost head to toe. Scott was the host. In true Scott fashion, I was picked out of the crowd and the jokes began. After the event, I got to talk with Scott and he thanked me for participating and having fun with him. As we set to bid farewell, we posed for a picture and went our separate ways.

KSLStu

Back in the present, I once again looked down at my wrist. My yellow bracelet was shining brightly. The bracelet that links myself to Scott as well as others. My LIVESTRONG bracelet. The bracelet that has become a universal symbol for the fight against the c word. While I can not empathize with what Scott is experiencing, my life experiences unite us. My grandfather had it. My grandmother had it. Three times. My next door neighbor, who was like a grandmother to me, had it. My cousin had it. My friend Laura had it. My friend Trinita had it. My colleague Maria had it. My friend Celena just finished battling it. My friend Quincy is battling it. The names are countless. The number of people that have been effected are endless. The lives that have been changed are numerous.

Last night’s ESPYs shined a bright light on the community that surrounds those fighting the c word. As tweets scrolled across the bottom of the screen, including one from me, from people who are fighting or fight for others, I was reminded, once again, that we are all in this together. No one who battles the c word should have to battle alone. We should all fight together. We should all fight to ensure that generations to come never have to experience a life plagued by the disease. We should all fight to ensure that many more birthdays are experienced. We should all fight to ensure that each and every person who is fighting is held up by someone who is willing to fight with them and for them. We should all fight to ensure that Jimmy V’s word will forever reign…”Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Actions speak louder than words. What do yours say about you?

 

Until next time…LIVESTRONG.

 

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{Source: Google Images}
{Source: Google Images}

 

For the love of the WOLFPACK…

Sunday morning I woke up with a headache. My throat was scratchy. And I was sleeeeeee-py. No, I was not sick. No, it had not been a long week. I was suffering the side effects of cheering my beloved Wolfpack on to victory over the #3 team in the nation on national TV….

As I sat in the stands at Carter-Finley Stadium aka The Carter Saturday night…..wait, let me rephrase that. As I stood in the stands, hooping and hollering, Saturday night watching my Wolfpack send Florida State back to RDU with their first loss, I could not help but wonder where this team was last week. Was this the same team that gave up 556 yards to Miami? Was this the same team that gave up that many yards and still had numerous chance to leave South Florida with a win? Was this the same team who had the home team thinking they were “The U” of old? Shaking my head, I thought to myself, ah the life of a STATE fan. NEVER A DULL MOMENT!!!
You see, it takes a special kind of person to be a STATE fan. You have to be loyal, determined, whitty, invested, committed, enthusiastic, passionate, confident and you need a good heart. Not the kind of heart that prompts you to be nice to people but a good heart that can sustain the extra heart palpitations you are sure to experience as a STATE fan. Saturday’s heart pounder is just one of many I have experienced as a STATE fan. I went through the same thing in 2010 when Florida State came to The Carter. I have had the same experience with men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, swimming, etc.

I have heard some say, “It is not easy being a STATE fan.” Sure, we have never won a national championship in football. We have not won a national championship in men’s basketball since 1983. Be sure to watch the ESPN 30 for 30 episode about the ’83 team next year. Yes, that was a plug! Despite the lack of championships, although we are one of only 14 programs that have won two or more men’s basketball championships, the sheer uncertainty at times keeps me excited. Take last year for instance. I attended our men’s basketball game against Florida State on February 18. I remember the day because it was the same day as Whitney Houston’s funeral. We got absolutely manhandled at home and I sat in the RBC(now PNC Arena) and watched Houston’s funeral on my phone. A month later, that same team that got manhandled was in the Sweet 16. Seven months later, this same team has constantly been ranked in the top 10 in the preseason polls. See what I mean?

Despite the fact that people think I should support one of the blue teams in the state(let me just say I would rather listen to someone pop gum 24 hours straight than to be a fan of either school…and anyone who knows me knows how much I CAN NOT STAND FOR PEOPLE TO POP GUM), I LOVE BEING A STATE FAN! I LOVE BEING AN ALUM! I love the fact that my school is associated with names such as DT, Yow, Valvano, Case, Shea, Stinson, Rivers, Holt, Tulloch, Hodge, Jones, Burleson, Pettersson, Gabriel, Brown, Whittenburg, Wilson, just to name a few. I love screaming HOME OF THE WOLFPACK at the end of the National Anthem. I love wearing RED, my favorite color. I love baseball games at The Doak, with Sullivan Hall in the background. I love the history of Reynolds Coliseum. I love hearing “WOLFPACK IN THE HOOOOOOOOOUSE” over the PA system.  I love going to games and seeing grown men and students dressed in red & white overalls. I love seeing the Bell Tower illuminated in red lighting after big wins. I love being a STATE fan. The good, the bad and the ugly. The tough times make nights like Saturday night, worth the Sunday morning headache.

Until next time….TOODELLS. #REDANDWHITEFORLIFE #OURSTATE #WOLFBLOOD