There’s nothing quite as mind-numbing as an awards show. The pomp and circumstance, inflated egos and the absolute overkill of celebrity is lost on me. But every so often one of these plastic parades transcends the banality of it all with genuine tributes to people worthy of recognition.
ESPN’s ESPY awards show is one of the sillier of these concoctions, with awards for best athlete, best play, best sneaker, best athlete’s foot for all I know. But this year they got it right, not just once but twice with two stories that hit home for different reasons.
Broadcaster Robin Roberts was honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for the dignity and courage she put on display for the entire world to see as she battled through breast cancer and then myelodysplastic syndrome – caused by defective blood cells when problems appear in the person’s bone marrow. Anyone who has ever been touched by any form of cancer or other life threatening disease not only understood and appreciated her struggle but felt empowered as she stood there, in a beautiful red dress, thin but healthy and all smiles. It was enough to bring a tear to the eye of even the most cynical of sorts.
Basketball great LeBron James introduced her to an already emotionally charged audience.
“We start to think it’s all too hard or we can’t do it,” he said. “Let’s just think about this moment. She’s an unbelievable woman. She’s the strongest woman I’ve ever been around. Robin Roberts.”
Robin’s speech was elegant and full of positivity.
“It’s humbling for me to represent you tonight. I draw strength from you. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to overcome any sort of illness are often told that we are strong. I didn’t find that strength on my own. It’s a quality that grew with every kind word of support, every prayer, every phone call.”
And then she said something so prescient. “I learned true strength isn’t when you face life’s challenges on your own. It’s when you take them on by accepting the help and faith of others and knowing you have those.”
Then Dick and Rick Hoyt were honored with the Jimmy Valvano Award for Perseverance for the love and absolute euphoria they experience when Dick pushes his wheel chair bound son across a marathon distance. Their story has become a local Boston legend that slowly spread across the country with each successive twenty six mile finish. Had they only attempted to complete the Boston Marathon and failed, theirs would still resonate as a testament to one father’s undying love for his son. The fact that they completed 70 marathons, six triathlons and were on their way to completing their 31st Boston Marathon in 2013 before bombs exploded at the finish line is astonishing.
“I want to thank you for giving this award to two stubborn Boston guys,” Dick said.
Quite frankly, for any Massachusetts native, Dick could have ended right there and walked off the stage because he summed up his, and his son’s, inner strength right there.
But Rick, silenced and crippled by cerebral palsy addressed the crowd through his computer.
“Thirty-seven years ago nobody would even talk to us,” the robotic voice modulator intoned. “But because my dad said ‘yes’ when I asked him to push me in that first race, our family has stood by us even when so many people told us we do not belong. We are still here. It only proves the wisdom of Jimmy V’s words – Don’t give up! Don’t ever give up.”
The crowd was moved to silence.
So the ESPY’s got it right this year with two stories of people overcoming adversity and celebrating that achievement with a newfound lust for life. In the wake of so many overpaid athletes, musicians and actors throwing it all away because, well, I don’t really know why, the positive examples set by Robin Roberts and the Hoyts proves that not everyone gets corrupted by their own sense of self-importance, or by the often cruel celebrity culture that sustains them.
And there are plenty of them out there, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that stories of depravity sell more newspapers and magazines and log up more hits for internet websites swimming in gossip and garbage than a simple story of courage ever could. Roberts and the Hoyts reminded us that there are more significant things to consider.
It was a nice reminder, and perhaps an unexpected lesson, of what is often overlooked in our day to day lives – the resurgent power the love and encouragement of friends and family can provide. We rally around a stricken loved one and give them the strength to not only battle through the adversity ahead but meet it head on with chin tucked low, hands held high and with every intention of winning in the end. And those of us on the sidelines never forget and those who suffered through it all experience a greater appreciation for life. Someone should give Roberts and the Hoyts an endorsement deal because they did just that – they won and they inspired so many with their journey.