At the news conference prior to that evening’s record-setting event, Vitale – fighting back tears – proclaims to the gathered reporters, camera crews and photographers, “No child should ever have to go through chemo; they should all be out playing ball.”
Coaching honorees Mike Brey, Tom Crean and Nick Saban, plus V Foundation CEO Susan Braun, V Board member Dereck Whittenburg and the assembled press aren’t the only ones moved by Vitale’s words.
Seated in the front row are several individuals whom Vitale refers to as “the real heroes.” They are children. They are cancer survivors. And they each have an incredible story to share. On this day, Vitale does the honors, describing in detail each child’s interests and inspiring journey as their proud families look on.
They are “Vitale’s kids” and this early recognition is just a warm-up. During the Gala later that evening, Vitale acknowledges each of them, leading to an ovation from the 850 gathered guests in the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton ballroom.
“Your funds are making a difference,” he enthusiastically tells the audience.
The Gala, which started as a smaller gathering at Dick and Lorraine Vitale’s home, has grown into a fundraising force, thanks to the commitment of the Vitales and the support of more than 70 attending celebrities, the local community and the worldwide Jimmy V team. This year’s Gala was bigger and more successful than any of the previous ones, surpassing the $2 million fund-raising milestone for pediatric cancer research.
Two $250,000 grants are among the results from this year’s Gala and they will be awarded in the memory of two incredible children who lost their cancer battles at a young age: Lacey Holsworth and Eddie Livingston.
“Lacey and Eddie were beautiful kids who inspired us with their courage,” Vitale said to their parents on stage as he presented the grants. “I promise that I will use every last breath I have on this Earth to fight this dreaded disease.”