I woke up Sunday morning to the awful news of Stuart Scott’s passing. Although any death is tragic, his especially hurt. He was an influential figure for me growing up, as I transformed into the ravenous sports fan that I am today. Scott’s tenure on SportsCenter coincided with my coming of age. Every time I flipped over the pillow and felt the coolness against my face, his iconic catchphrase came to mind. Every time I held a roll in my hand and reached for the butter, I cracked a smile. The entertainment factor he brought to SportsCenter was unlike any other anchor to set foot in Bristol. Sure, some anchors are entertaining, but their personalities are merely an evolution of Scott’s. He was the reason they crack the jokes they do today. He was the trailblazer. Any time Stuart Scott hosted, it became must-see TV, even if SportsCenter came on at 1am on a school night.
I will remember him for the laughs he provided, but more importantly, for how he conducted himself in his final years battling cancer. Since 2007, his legacy transformed from being a source of humor to being a source of courage. Reading his obituary on Sunday, I learned that he worked out at an MMA gym in my hometown of West Hartford, CT. That brought chills down my spine. I am honored that he chose to battle back against this awful disease in West Hartford, and fought his fate in my hometown until the very end.
His ESPYs speech last year was one for the ages. Like Jim Valvano in 1993, it would be a speech that unfortunately preceded a passing a few short months later. Scott’s words inspired me that night, just like they inspired millions of others.
I have learned a lot from people fighting cancer. I hope it is a fight I never have to face. Their battle puts into perspective how insignificant my fight is every day with a muscle disease. Looking back on the blog post I recently wrote about pain, my troubles feel so small compared to what cancer patients have to go through. My situation is quality of life threatening; theirs is life-threatening. Yet, between Scott, Valvano, and other heroes of mine such as Randy Pausch and my dear friend Carly Hughes, I have shining examples of how to live life. When people are faced with a life-threatening illness, it is easy to give up. Instead, more often than not, you see someone who truly values each and every day, down to the most minute detail. Sunshine. A warm breeze through an open window. The taste of ice cream. Things we take for granted, valued to the utmost. That is the attitude of someone who has learned the meaning of life.
To fight cancer with a positive attitude is to personify the meaning of courage. Stuart Scott believed until the day he died that he was going to beat this disease, never caring to know what stage he was in, because he didn’t want to change his approach to fighting it. Carly knew she was going to win up until the final moments. It’s funny; we always seem to read that someone “has lost their battle with cancer”.
I don’t see it that way at all.
Stuart Scott would also disagree. “When you die,” he would say in his speech, “it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.” If you live to be 100 but you don’t live a meaningful life, with treasured relationships and genuine love, is that better than living to be 49, and truly understanding the beauty of every moment?
There are few diseases in which there is a tangible, physical cure. To cure a disease mentally is even tougher. There is no doubt that in the way Stuart Scott lived, he cured cancer in his mind.
His attitude applies to any disease, whether or not it’s life-threatening. For people afflicted with a disease, too often we see our lives through a distorted, demented lens. It is easy to let life be defined by this lens; I can attest to that. To be able to come to peace with your circumstances, and to accept that your disease is a fact of life comparable to your age, or to the color of the sky – that is winning the battle. As Valvano said at the end of his iconic speech, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.”
At the conclusion of his own iconic speech, Scott said something that particularly resonates with me to this day: “Live! Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”
He has joined the hallowed group of people who have won their battle, even if they are not here on this Earth in the physical form. On the days where I need that extra push, or feel that I can’t get through the day, they fight my disease when I am down and help me make it to the next day in one piece. They are my inspiration to keep moving forward on this bewildering, sometimes lonesome road I find myself on.
Stuart Scott has left behind many catchphrases and quotes that I will recite for years to come, but when I think of him going forward, on those days where I feel bad for myself or fall down or am in a great deal of pain, two words will stand out above all else:
Stuart Scott’s speech:
Jim Valvano’s speech: