ESPYS 2022 – Dick Vitale’s legacy shines brightly in the next generation of cancer fighters he helped inspire

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Art Korney will never forget the day he found out his son Coleton had cancer.

Coleton Korney was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of tumor that forms on bone or tissue. Shortly after hearing his son’s diagnosis, Art Korney received a call at the hospital.

“An absolute rock bottom in our lives and he’s calling you,” Korney said. “He said, ‘This is Dick Vitale. We’re here to help.'”

Dick Vitale is synonymous with college basketball.

He has been with ESPN since 1979, the year the network was founded. He is the original PTPer calling ESPN’s very first college basketball show.

But for almost as long as Vitale has been a part of televised college basketball, he’s dabbled in battling cancer. He helped Jim Valvano onto the ESPYS stage, where Valvano delivered his iconic “Don’t Give Up” speech.

Vitale helped found the V Foundation.

In addition to raising funds and bringing his name and fame to the cause of cancer research, Vitale has forged personal connections with cancer patients and their families, helping them navigate their lives with cancer and thrive in their afterlife.

“The hope he brought into the unknown lifted your spirits and gave you hope,” Korney said.

“Prayers and dollars,” said Vince Grande, whose son Enzo was diagnosed with leukemia when he was three and a half years old. “This is what we ask of cancer patients to continue research. Dick took us to his house. … It’s not just about cancer, it’s about life.”

In October, Vitale announced that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma and was facing six months of chemotherapy. He knew what that meant.

“I have seen firsthand the devastation that cancer can have on families, children and all of our loved ones,” Vitale said in a statement. “It can bring you to your knees. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting. It robs you of so many things, including life for even the most unfortunate of patients. I never lose sight of that and that’s why I feel so lucky.”

In April 2022, 82-year-old Vitale announced he was cancer-free.

As well known as Vitale is in college hoops and for his community service, his impact can almost be felt in those who have been helped by him and the work of the V Foundation: children and their families who have experienced and are living through the horrors of childhood cancer now living after cancer, were inspired by Vitale’s work. As such, they become the next generation of cancer fighters.

“Some kids want to be rock stars, want to be athletes,” said Elain Grande. “My son wants to be Dick Vitale.”

Enzo Grande had to face four years of chemotherapy, 18 spinal taps, 20 blood transfusions, and liver disease before being declared cancer-free.

COVID-19 and cancer hit Mikari Tarpley at the same time. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in March 2020, just before she turned 16. Actress and Broadway performer Tarpley attends a performing arts high school in Smyrna, Georgia, but treatment during a pandemic has kept her away from her friends. She found support from other cancer patients.

“Cancer is terrible and needs to be destroyed,” Tarpley said.

“[The treatment] was hard. It was awful. But the support people give makes it ten times better. Even though I was so sick and tired all the time, it didn’t feel that bad. To feel something about that support around you and all that love… [the treatment] wasn’t that bad.”

As both Grande and Tarpley went through their treatment, they knew they wanted to find ways to help cancer patients, especially children.

“It’s tough going through cancer overall. They don’t want to see a child suffer … I don’t want anyone to go through that,” said Grande, who is now 13 and cancer-free. “I’ve experienced it. I know how children feel. It’s important to think about what children go through at such a young age.”

To help others, Grande, who lives in St. Augustine, Florida, started Enzo’s SmackDown to Cancer. He loves professional wrestling so he borrowed the name from WWE. He collected donations and toys to distribute to patients at a Florida children’s hospital.

Tarpley knew her treatment plan would mean she would miss her 16th birthday party. In lieu of a party and gifts, she asked for donations to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Pediatric Cancers and Blood Disorders Center. She wanted to help cancer and sickle cell anemia patients. Then they met Vitale.

Family friends linked the Grande and Korney families to Vitale. Tarpley wrote him a letter. There, with their own stories of how they are doing and the compassion they have for other cancer patients, they joined a larger community to fight cancer together. Each of them and their families were involved in the annual V Foundation and Vitale Gala.

Since 2006, Vitale’s Gala has raised over $44 million for childhood cancer research and the V Foundation. Before the pandemic, it regularly drew nearly 1,000 guests from the sports world and cancer survivors like Tarpley, Grande and Korney.

“When I saw so many athletes and coaches supporting me [cancer research at the gala], I was thrilled,” said Korney, who is now 17 and a year after his cancer was declared in remission. “I was indescribable. It was a momentous occasion to see all those people in that huge hall there to support them.”

“These guys really want to help cancer research,” Grande said. “And then I was really like, I want to do this. … I want to be like Dick Vitale when I’m older. I want to follow his legacy.”

Grande thinks that maybe sport isn’t for him in the future, so he wants to be a broadcaster like Vitale and wants Vitale to beat cancer like he did. But it’s also Vitale’s legacy with the V Foundation and as a champion of victory over cancer that has left its mark.

Grande, Tarpley and Korney’s resounding feeling about the impact Vitale and his work had on their lives: inspiration. Cancer has impacted their lives and like Vitale and Valvano before him, they have chosen to use their time to help others.

“I can do this work for the rest of my life,” Tarpley said. “It’s a part of me now and I want to keep doing it.” ESPYS 2022 – Dick Vitale’s legacy shines brightly in the next generation of cancer fighters he helped inspire

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