Commentary | Dick Vitale marks another victory in fight against cancer

May 18, 2013 

SARASOTA

Adreian Payne stands 6-foot-10, weighs 240 pounds and has a 7-foot-plus wingspan.

Lacey Holsworth is 7 years old and might hover at 4 feet when she stands on her toes.

In the war against cancer, this is not a mismatch. It's a perfect fit.

The two represent what Friday night's eighth annual Dick Vitale Gala at the Ritz-Carlton was all about: people helping people. It's human beings from all walks of life coming together to demonstrate their solitude against a lethal disease.

Sports celebrities from across the country came at their own expense to donate to a worthy cause and share a night of laughter and tears.

Lacey is battling a form of cancer called neuroblastoma. Her fight broke Payne's heart. They met about two years ago when his Michigan

State basketball team was visiting kids in a hospital and a bond was formed.

When Payne first saw Lacey, she could barely walk and was later paralyzed from the waist down. He joined her in her therapy and encouraged her to keep working hard, promising it would pay off.

"Adreian would tell Lacey he was working out and getting stronger, and it motivated her," said her father, Matt Holsworth. "Now she is back dancing and doing well. She is not 100 percent, and the remission rate is high. But Adreian has given her something to focus on and think about somebody else in the midst of all her pain and treatments."

Payne's mother died when he was 6. He was raised by his grandmother, who died about two years ago. Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo said he believes that void motivated him to get involved with Lacey.

"He loves kids, but this relationship surprised me in that I believe it is for the long haul. I think it's going to be for life," Izzo said. "Adreian has always had a great appreciation for kids, maybe because of what he went through. He is about the most accountable I ever had, and there are a lot of positives to him. What he has done with Lacey is very special. I don't know if many players would do that."

When Payne gave his phone number to Lacey, her parents told him she would be calling and texting him every day. He was OK with that. Heading into his senior year next season and then a likely NBA career, the Michigan State forward/center promised he will always be there if Lacey needs him.

"When I first met her, Lacey couldn't walk and could barely hold herself up. I wanted to help because I love kids," Payne said. "I think this is something more athletes should do, be a role model and help these kids get through rough times."

Retired hall of fame college coaches Jim Calhoun from Connecticut, a three-time cancer survivor, and FSU's Bobby Bowden, who beat prostate cancer, were the honored guests along with current Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self.

They more than gladly shared their notoriety and tributes with kids who are on the front lines fighting cancer and others who were not able to make it or lost their lives.

Vitale has made good on his promise that he would keep alive the names of those who succumbed to cancer.

Payton Wright lost her life to cancer in 2007 at the age of 5. The grant money donated in her name helped Kyle Peters, who had brain cancer that has been in remission since June 2011.

"Kyle was helped through the Payton Wright Foundation," said his mother, Jennifer. "We found out through All Children's Hospital that some of her grant money went to his treatment. So it's a privilege to be here."

Cancer knows no boundaries, but neither do many of the people who are on the front lines.

When Kyle Peters was diagnosed with cancer and lost his hair after radiation treatments, his friend, Tony Colton, shaved his head.

Now Tony has been diagnosed with kidney cancer and lost his hair, so Kyle shaved his head.

"I am helping him out just as he helped me. I am honored to be at this gala and I just want to thank the V Foundation and Dick Vitale," Kyle Peters said.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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