SARASOTA — Moments before Dick Vitale arrived in the small hospital courtyard to ring the ceremonial bell signaling an end to his chemotherapy treatments, reporters were warned that the ESPN icon was tired and would say only a few words.
Of course, Dickie V’s few words are another’s five-page speech. The 82-year-old Hall of Famer thanked his family, fans and Sarasota Memorial Hospital staff. Then he pivoted to his passion — his annual gala that raises money for children’s cancer research — and caught his second wind.
“More than ever, more than ever, I want to raise more dollars than ever,” Vitale said. “And I beg all of you to please, please use in your stories, please help me. Only four cents — four cents — out of every dollar that is funded and raised for cancer goes to pediatrics. And that is a crime.”
The 17th annual Dick Vitale Gala, a sold-out event featuring a smorgasbord of celebrities from Keyshawn Johnson to Chris Evert, will be held Friday evening at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. To this point, the gala has helped raise nearly $44 million for the Dick Vitale Fund for Pediatric Cancer at the V Foundation, according to a V Foundation news release.
“It’s going to be a special night,” Vitale said. “I guarantee you, I can say this here emphatically, we will raise more than $7 million that night for kids. And that’s going to put us at $50 million ... since I’ve started with a little (event).”
An evening typically brimming with tears may be especially poignant for its host this time around. Vitale’s bell-ringing ceremony came roughly seven months after his own lymphoma diagnosis requiring six chemo treatments. The diagnosis came only months after he underwent multiple surgeries to remove melanoma and was declared cancer-free.
“At times, it was tough,” Vitale said, his voice breaking. “Seven months ... I don’t know how those kids can take all that. What I faced is nothing — nothing — compared to what people face.”
Donations for pediatric-cancer research can be made at v.org/pediatrics.
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