At first, it wasn’t what Dick Vitale was saying, but how Vitale said it that grabbed David Nail’s attention.
Nail was watching Louisville and Arizona play in a Jimmy V Classic Basketball game in December 2006 when he heard Vitale tell the ESPN audience about a little girl in Lakewood Ranch who was battling a rare form of brain cancer.
Suddenly, Vitale wasn’t using his normal high-octane, rattle-the-windows voice. Instead, Vitale was straight-forward serious.
“He’s always a passionate guy. Very loud,” Nail said. “But there was a change in his demeanor and the look in his eye.”
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Nail was listening.
“Payton Wright ... 4-years-old ... chemotherapy ... radiation ... Medulloepithelioma ...,” Vitale said.
“It was extremely moving,” Nail said. “I think it was one of those bits of fate.”
It was Vitale’s message that sent Nail to Payton Wright’s Web site, where he spent three hours reading Holly Wright’s journal detailing her little girl’s fight for her life with a rare type of neuroepithelial tumor. Nail left a comment on the site. He heard from Payton’s dad, Patrick, the following day.
At the time, Nail was a young musician/song writer looking for a break. Now, he has the No. 12 single on Billboard’s Top 40 country chart and a tour that has him crisscrossing the country.
On Saturday night, Nail will be in Lakewood Ranch for a benefit concert at MacAllisters Grill and Tavern’s St Andrews Scottish Festival on Main Street, an event to celebrate Scottish heritage with proceeds going to the Payton Wright Foundation. Payton passed away in May 2007, days after her fifth birthday.
“I bawled my eyes out reading the story of this little girl,” Nail said.
In that first message to the Wrights, Nail wrote: “I don’t know if I can do anything worthwhile, but I’ll spend the rest of my life telling the story of your little girl.”
“Payton’s touched a lot of people,” Patrick Wright said. “We’re just humbled by it. It makes us feel good.”
Nail was born in Kennett, Mo., a town small enough where everyone knows everyone else, Nail said. Yet he never knew of anyone suffering like Payton or her family.
Two days before watching that basketball game, Nail had been asked if he would start a foundation. Nail gave it some thought, but didn’t feel passionate about any one cause. He visits childrens’ hospitals and thought of getting involved in the Boys & Girls Club.
“But I never really felt a connection to be really, really passionate about something,” Nail said. “I didn’t want a charity for the sake of having a charity.”
Enter Vitale, the Lakewood Ranch resident, who uses his platform as an ESPN college basketball analyst to spread the word about the V Foundation, which raises money for cancer research and awareness in the name of Jim Valvano, Vitale’s friend and former college basketball coach who lost his battle with cancer in 1993.
After meeting Payton in 2006, Vitale has directed his own crusade against pediatric cancer.
That December night in 2006, Vitale picked up another warrior in David Nail
“David’s not just saying he’s going to help and write a check,” Patrick Wright said. “He backs it up, and he’s backing it up by coming to the event and giving a free show. That’s the great part about it. He’s very sincere.”
Nail will play “Red Light,” his No. 12 single off his debut CD, “I’m About to Come Alive.” Nail mentioned Payton in the jacket of his CD. During a sound check before a recent concert, Nail took some white tape and put the initials, “PW” on his guitar.
Fans ask him what “PW” stands for.
“Putting Payton’s initials on my guitar was a subconscious thing,” Nail said. “I never dreamed how many people would ask about it.”
Nail directs them to paytonwright.org.
Nail’s desire to help the Payton Wright Foundation was further fueled in June when he and his bride, Catherine, took time from their honeymoon at St. Pete Beach to have dinner with Holly and Patrick.
“I told my wife, ‘I don’t know if I would be able to go on after that.’ To me, that’s truly the most inspiring thing,” Nail said. “They are still together. They still celebrate life. They are still a mother and father to their daughters.”
Nail’s tour has taken him to Lakeland, Jacksonville, McDonough, Ga., Oxford, Miss., Maplewood, Tenn., Chicago, Columbia, Mo. On Saturday, he will perform on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch. After that, he’s off to Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Baton Rouge and Twin Lakes, Wis.
He hopes his CD will take him to the top of the country music world.
He plans on taking Payton’s story and the work of the Payton Wright Foundation where ever he goes.
“Hopefully, as my career goes on, my voice will be something more meaningful, and I can do more,” Nail said. “Hopefully, we’ll find a way to keep this from happening.”