Jimmy V speech made impression on Hainsey

Posted by Chip Alexander on December 5, 2013 

Ron Hainsey was three weeks away from his 12th birthday the night Jim Valvano gave his inspirational ESPY Awards speech.

Hainsey was fixated. More than 20 years later, the Canes defenseman says it still resonates with him.

"It's a speech I've gone back to throughout the years and watched," Hainsey says. "It's one that stuck with me since then. It was an unbelievable, heart-wrenching speech."

Growing up in Connecticut, Hainsey says he "lived on ESPN." On March 3, 1993, he was watching as Valvano, dying of cancer, needed help taking the stage and then took command of it and the audience, touching everyone who saw him speak.

Valvano talked of the need of more funds for cancer research, of beginning a new foundation to try to beat the disease and save lives.

"It's motto is, 'Don't give up, don't ever give up,'" Valvano said.

As a young sports fan, Hainsey knew of Valvano, of N.C. State, of how Valvano and the Wolfpack made their thrilling run to the 1983 national championship. He had seen replays of Lorenzo Charles' winning dunk. He had seen Valvano spinning about the court in Albuquerque after the upset of Houston in the title game, looking for someone to hug.

"I knew about how improbable it was when they won, the dunk at the end and all that, Jimmy running around the court," Hainsey says.

Then came that night in 1993, and the inaugural ESPY Awards.

"Time is very precious to me, I don't know how much I have left … " Valvano said on the ESPYs telecast.

Valvano talked of doing three things every day -- to laugh, to think and to cry. He said to be enthusiastic every day and "to keep your dreams alive."

"Cancer can take away all my physical abilities," Valvano said in ending. "It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch by heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever."

Hainsey, like so many, felt the power of the words, the message.

"The whole speech was something that stands alone as far as one of those moments of real life and sports coming together, the way he moved everyone with that speech that night," Hainsey says.

Hainsey, who grew up a Hartford Whalers fan in Bolton, Conn., would one day play hockey for a living. His NHL career has taken him to Montreal, Columbus, Atlanta, Winnipeg and now to the Hurricanes. His home rink is PNC Arena, which the Hurricanes and Wolfpack share.

That was another Valvano dream, to one day build a new coliseum for N.C. State basketball. It was realized in 1999 when PNC Arena -- then called the Entertainment and Sports Arena -- was opened. It's "Jimmy V week" on ESPN. Valvano's ESPYs speech again will be shown and donations accepted for The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

And Ron Hainsey could be watching, again.

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