In Their Own Words: Dereck Whittenburg
The V Foundation is successful thanks to the contributions of many: donors, corporate partners, our incredible Board and Scientific Advisory Committee and the amazing researchers to whom we award grants. With “In Their Own Words,” we sit down with key members of our team to learn more about their commitment to the V Foundation and their personal desire to put an end to cancer. In this edition, we chat with V Foundation Board Member and star of Jim Valvano’s 1983 Natioanl Champion NC State Wolfpack, Dereck Whittenburg.
The V Foundation: What is one of your favorite stories about Coach Valvano?
Dereck Whittenburg: My first opportunity to meet Coach V was when I was a senior in high school and Sidney Lowe and I, we were teammates at DeMatha, we were playing in an AAU tournament in Boston. After we won the game, Coach Valvano came up to us and grabbed us and said, “Hey, I’m Jim Valvano, Iona College. I love you two guys, I love watching you play.” So a year later, when we were at NC State and had played a year, he became our coach when we were beginning our sophomore years. So he was introduced as the new coach, as he’s walking in, I said to one of the assistant coaches, “That’s that crazy Italian guy that said that he owns a college!” And then someone said no, he meant “Iona College.” That was my first ever encounter with Jim Valvano.
TVF: What’s the most important life lesson you learned from Coach Valvano?
DW: I had the privilege of playing for Jim and coaching with Jim and working on the board for Jim, but I think the thing I learned the most is to have a great enthusiasm for life. Enjoy your life. His passion for life and helping others is definitely the thing I learned the most.
TVF: What has motivated you to stay so committed to the V Foundation after all these years?
DW: On his death bed, Jim put together on a legal pad the guys he wanted to help start this organization. And my name was on that legal pad as a founding member. So, to me, it’s all about completing his vision. It’s more to me than a job. Being a part of the board and working for the Foundation, is one thing, but it’s bigger than that to me. It’s a commitment to my coach, it’s a commitment to finding a cure for cancer, and it’s about executing what he wanted done. For one, raising awareness and getting more money raised in the support of cancer research. And two, to try to find a cure. And I think the V Foundation over the last 25 years has executed that beautifully. Have we gotten to where we want to be? Not yet. But we are off to a great start and we are on the right track.
TVF: What words of encouragement would you give to someone battling cancer?
DW: A couple things: “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up,” and “Survive and Advance,” which of course are both slogans of our brand. I think also sometimes cancer can become this celebrity and it comes back to the forefront because an athlete or an actor is diagnosed. But there are millions of other people who deal with the disease every day who need the same kind of encouragement.
TVF: What does Victory Over Cancer look like to you?
DW: In sports, victory means final. It means you’ve won. The victory for me would be for people to be able to survive every day who have this disease. That’s the only victory that I can see. And it’s not final until we find a cure.