Just as much as I love sports, I love a feel-good story. So, it’s no wonder that I look forward to the annual ESPY (Excellence in Sports Yearly Awards) show, which recognizes individual and team athletic achievement and other sports-related performances. This year’s show was hosted by race car driver, Danica Patrick. It’s the first time the show has been hosted by a female and this year’s ceremony included some stand-out stories from the past year. ESPN broke tradition this year by awarding the Best Coach Award to 3 Florida high school coaches who died in the tragic Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Also recognized were the hundreds of athletes who came forward to speak out about sexual abuse by former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar. The group received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which is presented to individuals whose contributions “transcend sports.”
Always a highlight of the show is the presentation of the Jimmy V Award, which is awarded to “a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.” This year’s award went to former Buffalo Bills quarterback, Jim Kelly. Kelly had a tremendous football career which included 11 years in the NFL., 5 Pro Bowl appearances, and 4 Super Bowl appearances. He was inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and his jersey (#12) was one of only two numbers retired by the Bills. He retired when his wife became pregnant. Shortly after, he learned that his son, Hunter, had a rare disease which led to his death at the young age of 8. However, it wasn’t Kelly’s performances on the field that he was recognized for but rather his perseverance through difficult times off of the field.
On June 3, 2013, Kelly announced that he had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer, in his upper jaw. A few days later, he underwent surgery and announced that he was cancer-free. During a follow up in 2014, it appeared that his cancer had returned and Kelly began radiation and chemotherapy treatment. Again, doctors announced that there was no further evidence of cancer. In March 2018, the cancer returned and Kelly underwent mouth surgery that involved reconstruction of his upper jaw.
As Dan Marino pointed out during the ceremony, Kelly “lived his life the same way he played football.” Whether he was knocked down in a game or knocked down by cancer, he always got back up.
In fact, during the awards presentation video, Kelly shared that his father would often utter 5 simple words: “Get up, you’ll be alright” while reminding him that we all go through tough times.
Kelly gave an emotional speech and reflected back on his experiences, stating “when I look back on my life, I always live by the 4 F.s”. He continued that he recently changed one of the F’s (fun) as his priorities changed. He explained that “even though I still have fun, I’ve put the one in there that means more to me now than it ever has and that’s my Faith.” Kelly expanded on the 4 F’s:
- Faith – Kelly stated that he puts his faith “in the good Lord…and that he has plans for my life.”
- Family – Kelly recognized various family members as well as his Buffalo Bills family who continued to support him and give him hope through life’s challenges
- Friends – he thanked those who had supported him and those who had been there and still are
- Fans – Kelly stated that he came up with the saying “make a difference today for someone who’s fighting tomorrow.”
Kelly expanded on the last concept and explained that “every single person can be a difference maker” by paying attention to what they say to others or how just giving a smile can be the difference to someone who’s dealing with life’s challenges or just having a bad day.
Whether on the field or off, Jim Kelly has displayed perseverance and determination to “get up and be alright.” He continues to fight to inspire others who have cancer or other curveballs that life throws.
Like others who have received the award in previous years, he reminded us to “never ever give up.” His 5 words and 4 F’s are words to live by.
The Jimmy V Foundation has raised more than $80 million dollars for cancer research and programs.
You can donate here.