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Farewell to my biggest fans

August 21, 2010

Change can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the situation.

For me, the last year of my life has been nothing short of a whirlwind of change. Not only did I lose two precious family members and see two more crippled up, but now I'm about to embark on a new venture in the near future.

Sports have always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a family, we spent countless hours at games, and when I was growing up, I always had someone in the stands cheering me on.

But in seven months time, I lost my two best fans - my mom (Jane Kirk) and my sister (Julie Jones).

In between funerals, my brother Dan ("Hondo" Kirk) broke both his legs and his wife Pam was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Hondo was finally able to stand three weeks ago for the first time since February.

Whether it was sitting on the bleachers watching me compete in high school volleyball or basketball or as a member of the Southwest (Minnesota) State University volleyball team, Mom and Julie were always there. They even drove to Colorado to watch me play.

To be fair, neither of them really cared much about watching me run sprints in track, but I knew the support was still there.

Volleyball was the favorite sport for the three of us so we spent a lot of time together later on in my life, watching many of our relatives go through the ranks. So when high school and collegiate volleyball practices kicked off this week, I realized it would never be the same without them.

While the entire family is still reeling over the loss of my mom, the rock in our family who died Jan. 6, the pain of losing my sister to breast cancer on Aug. 7 at the age of 49 is almost unbearable.

Not only do I miss their presence, I miss the little things - like how Mom used to clip out my NFL football picks in the Independent every week to follow how I did, or when Julie used to give me advice on football teams when I asked. She knew more about football than a lot of men I know.

But this year won't be the same when I go to pick those pro teams amidst my colleagues, though I know they'll be there in spirit. And everywhere around me, I'm reminded of their impact on my life.

As thousands of people locally and state-wide prepare to walk for a cure today, I cannot help but wonder how many loved ones have been taken too soon because of cancer, and I know the answer - too many!

I never really knew cancer until I watched my sister Julie melt away right before my eyes. She fought with everything she had in her petite 120-pound frame, but cancer is a nasty, ugly disease, and it was relentless despite her valiant efforts.

She didn't deserve to die from cancer and neither do the 569,490 others that the American Cancer Society estimates will succumb to the disease in 2010.

But I have to believe that things are changing for the better. As a society, we've come a long way in cancer awareness and hopefully, in finding a cure.

Our family is diving into the efforts one step at a time, in honor of Julie, my mom (who was a breast cancer survivor) and for millions of others touched by cancer, too.

My brother-in-law, Cary Jones, asked the casket bearers to wear pink shirts from the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign at Julie's funeral. All six of them - including my son Dalton (Kirk) who is headed to the University of St. Thomas this fall - were eager to oblige and wore them proudly. In addition, all the family members sported pink bows and bracelets.

I wish I could personally thank every person or business that donates to cancer research, or competes in an event like the Rotary/Golf for Cancer tournament at the Marshall Golf Club because every little bit helps.

I'd like to thank every single team member who walked, jogged or ran from 7 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. this morning for the Lyon County Relay for Life "Feat at the Fairgrounds" in Marshall.

While cancer affects everyone, Julie and Mom will also be remembered and honored in a very special way this weekend. My other sister, Deb Saxton, and her daughter Missie (Erbes) are taking part in something that really touches my heart.

Deb and Missie joined thousands of others in the 3-Day for the Cure cancer walk, beginning Friday in the Twin Cities. They vowed to walk 120,000 steps - a grueling 60 miles in three days - in honor of our fallen loved ones and for a cure for breast cancer.

They raised thousands of dollars for the cause and will draw strength from knowing how much people suffer from cancer and the belief they can make a difference.

I am so proud of them, and their efforts prompted me to do something I never thought I would do - leave the Independent Sports Department.

I have truly enjoyed the past three years working the local sports beat and getting to know so many great people in the area. But when a daytime news position opened up recently at the Independent, I knew what I needed to do - make the change.

My 13-year-old daughter Kassidy needed me to sit in the stands - like Mom and Julie did for me all those years. But I knew I could not do that while I was working nights in the sports department, no matter how much I loved it. So I will be "crossing over to the light side" very soon. I am looking forward to the challenge.

In keeping with the spirit of change in honor of Mom and Julie, I will also be forcing myself to watch the Minnesota Vikings this year as they prepare for Year 2 with Brett Favre.

Julie never missed a Vikes game and Mom also kept close tabs on them. Shortly before Mom died, she was airlifted to Sioux Falls. When she came to, she immediately asked if the Vikings had won or lost the game she didn't get to finish watching earlier.

They were true Vikings fans. I cannot promise to cheer loudly for Minnesota - because they've disappointed everyone too many times to count - but I'll watch in memory of Mom and Julie, whom I will never forget.

Maybe with some angels watching over them, the Vikings can finally win a Super Bowl.



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