Last Night, the WPIAL honored it's 2015 Hall of Fame class. Among the honorees were our own Jaime Vick Moran and Ellen Toy. As compelling as the evenings speeches were, from State Champions, Super Bowl Champions and former NFL players it was Jodie McCartney, Jaime's twin sister that owned the night. I am so very proud to share her incredible speech with you here.
Last night I was honored to give a speech on behalf of Jaime and Ellen receiving the WPIAL Courage Award, at the 2015 WPIAL Hall of Fame Banquet. It was a very difficult thing to put into words, how does one summarize everything they've been through. I could have talked for hours about these two amazing women and how deserving of a courage award they are. I want to share this with our "friends" and family here on facebook, who weren't able to be there last night. You are our community of strength, who continue to support the Toy and Vick families time and time again, know that we appreciate that ten fold, and are eternally grateful. And as always please keep Ellen in your prayers, she so gracefully made it through the whole evening, despite experiencing some harsh side effects of her new treatment.
On behalf of the Vick and Toy families, I would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the WPIAL Board for their recognition of Ellen and Jaime's courageous battle and continued legacy.
The only way for me to speak of the courage thatJaime Vick-Moran and Ellen Toy embody, is to share a small part their inspirational stories with you.
The definition of courage is the ability to do something that frightens oneself.
Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief.
Ellen and Jaime are courage.
The kind of courage Ellen and Jaime have evolved through life experience, independently and then together, to get through the darkest days of life.
Jaime’s stemmed from having beat leukemia twice, first diagnosed at 14, she went through three extensive rounds of chemotherapy treatments, but returned victorious to high school and the basketball court at Kiski with determination, and continued living life as a typical high school junior and senior should. Jaime was an inspiration to our family and the community, acquiring a basketball scholarship to SVC. In her sophomore year of college, she felt there was something wrong, she was losing weight and didn’t feel right, so she had the courage to pray, for God to show her a sign, the next day she couldn’t walk, and the day after that, we found out she had relapsed. A new plan of attack was in place, and courageously, Jaime began radiation and chemotherapy to kill the cancer, and everything else in her blood so that she could receive a bone marrow transplant. And though the road before and after transplant was a long and difficult one, she courageously emerged, returned to finish her degree and continue her playing career, put the cancer in the back of her mind, and left Saint Vincent College with a degree in Math Education, excited for her future. As a candidate for a teaching position at Kiski, she heard the volleyball team had a new coach, and thought assisting the team may increase her chances of getting hired.
Ellen’s courage stemmed from life experience as well. As a top notch volleyball player in high school, Ellen received an athletic scholarship to Pitt, and after a career ending injury, she was courageous enough to not give up. She sought out coaching positions, stepping in for Norwin’s coach. Married her high school sweetheart, Tim, was hired to coach jv boys at plum, then girls’ varsity volleyball at plum where Ellen won a State Championship her first year. All the while, building her courage, handling and influencing players, taking strength from families she became a part of, especially the McDowell family. Ellen took some time off from coaching to start a family, experienced tragedy and loss, but then courageously she and Tim, decided they wouldn’t let this ruin them, they were pregnant again, and a beautiful baby girl Aly was born, followed by their handsome son Mason. In 1992 an opportunity arose at Leechburg for a phys. Ed. teaching position and after she was hired, Ellen founded the girls’ volleyball program. She coached there for 14 years, building courage with experiences in her athletes and students. When a coaching position came up at her alma mater, Kiski area, she courageously accepted and began what would be a rebuild of the cavalier volleyball program.
And then it was 2007, this is where the story of Jaime and Ellen collide, fate, as Tim would say, pushed Jaime courageously through the door to an open gym they were holding for the following year’s volleyball season, Jaime introduced herself and Ellen saw she would be a great fit, Jaime needed some volleyball coaching experience, but with her inspirational background, she was the perfect role model for the program. Ellen and Jaime did know a little bit about each other, but no one could have predicted the impact that the two would have in one another's life. Ellen, Jaime, and Dan Clair (the best all time volunteer coach) courageously rebuilt Kiski volleyball, one year at a time, impacting the players both on and off the court. Two seasons went flying by, through Kiski volleyball and club volleyball, Ellen and Jaime had become a coaching duo, but more importantly good friends.
The 2009-2010 School year would be when the courage Ellen and Jaime built independently in life would merge together. On a bus ride to an away match at Franklin Regional, is where Ellen first received the news of her gastric cancer diagnosis, Jaime was there with Ellen, and knowing what that blow felt like, was able to help Ellen cope. Courageously without making the team aware of what had happened, Ellen and Jaime victoriously coached the game that night.
The season ended and Ellen’s treatment began, she went through an extensive surgery that removed most of her stomach, and then had to receive chemotherapy treatments, which themselves had several painful side effects. She had to create a new lifestyle for herself, not able to eat many foods because of the pain they caused her and adjust to her new petite figure. All the while Ellen was courageously battling cancer treatment, Jaime courageously went to work, organizing fundraisers, the junior high volleyball season and afterwards, spring conditioning for the high school team.
What happened next, rocked us all to our core, in May of 2010, Jaime had noticed some bruising with the preseason conditioning, and she was concerned so made an appointment with her oncologist. After a spinal tap procedure, it was confirmed, her leukemia was back. Her bravery in the face of the relapse was astounding, she was prepared to battle leukemia again, to put it behind her once and for all.
Ellen, finished up treatment that summer, and began the process of rebuilding strength. Jaime had started chemotherapy, her July wedding was moved to May. The search was on for a transplant donor match so that she could receive a second Bone Marrow Transplant.
While Ellen was courageously getting stronger, Tim, Dan and I keep the open gyms and practices running for the upcoming season, and Jaime finally received news that there was a match, she would receive a bone marrow transplant August 27th, 2010. Having been through in her words “several unpleasantries” during treatment, prior to transplant, she was anxious to receive the marrow and get the process started. Jaime was in isolation, waiting for the transplant to engraft and Ellen and staff began the next volleyball season. This one was different though, courageously, with the intent that trying out for a girls team would force Kiski to start some sort of boys program, we had Thad Paunovich “the boy” on our team, and it was a whirlwind of a season, he kept us entertained, taught us a different kind of courage, help to provide some great triumphs and some much needed comic relief, including a section championship and a trip to the playoffs.
2010 was finally over everyone was looking forward to a better 2011. Jaime was working hard towards recovery, this transplant and treatment plan were more intense than what she previous experienced, she wanted to bounce back, but several times she had road blocks to get past. Vowing to be back on the volleyball bench for the 2011-2012 was what was on her mind. Summer came and went, Jaime wasn’t strong enough to start teaching in the fall, recovering from a BMT was taking time, and she had some medical setbacks. But Jaime never lost hope, she always courageously fought each setback head on.
The fall 2011 volleyball season was approaching, Ellen back at the reigns of head coach, and another Jam the Gym was organized to benefit cancer fighters in our community, the previous year was held it for Jaime, but this time Jaime was there as she was working towards getting stronger, and hoping to get word that her transplant was a success. The season went on successfully, even ended with a trip to the playoffs, with Ellen feeling pretty well and Jaime able to cheer on her team. Life was good, not perfect, but good, and Jaime and Ellen continued to be an inspiration for all.
2012, is a year that Jaime’s courage was tried as hard as it had ever been. It seemed like she couldn’t catch a break, always running into medical complications, and having some really hard times. With every knockdown, Jaime fought back ten times harder, she ran into a life threatening stretch of health issues in May, but in Jaime style courageously fought back, forced herself to walk again despite having broken spinal discs, captivated doctors and nurses at Mercy and children's hospital with her determination to get better. Eventually Jaime was confined to a wheelchair or had to use a walker to get around, her body was giving in, but her spirit did not. Her courage shone through, she would make my mom take her shopping, go to lunch at their favorite restaurant, She chose to live life.
July of 2012, Jaime had some swelling in her arm that was an infection that admitted her to the hospital, one medical issue after another happened, but she courageously fought them all, spending most of her time in the ICU she still managed to amaze doctors along the way. At the end of July, the doctors informed us she had a brain infection from the transplant that they could treat with medicine to prolong her life, but her prognosis was dismal. Courageously, Jaime chose the medicine, but it made her feel even sicker and because the side effects were unbearable, about week later, courageously, Jaime decided she had had enough. Several days later, Jaime passed away at Children’s Hospital on August 6th.
Jaime’s passing was the hardest thing any of us have ever dealt with to this point, our family, our friends, the volleyball team that had grown into a family. And as we were still figuring out the roller coaster of grief, somehow someway, perhaps on the bond that the two of them built, Ellen courageously led the way for the girls who loved Jaime so much to pick themselves up and play for their beloved coach.
The 2012 volleyball season was played in memory of Jaime. With Ellen’s courage, Dan’s consistency, and Maggie Jones as assistant, the team played with their hearts all season long, while Ellen helped guide them not only volleyball skills, but with life lessons, and they soon realized they were stronger together as a team.
Then tragedy struck, a junior player on the team Jenna Prusia, was in a terrible sled riding accident in December, and would later pass at Children’s Hospital. Jenna was an amazing person, Jenna had a twin sister, Ashton, on the team, and several friends who were completely devastated. The loss of Jenna was immense, it was only 6 months since Jaime’s passing and now this team had to deal with a tragedy. Yet again, Ellen courageously picked up the pieces, made sure the girls were okay, saw them through the hardest times of their lives, and started planning for the junior high volleyball season.
What would happen next is like getting hit by a bus when crossing the street and not paying attention, Ellen gets news that she has suffered a relapse with her gastric cancer, has to undergo more grueling treatments and more surgeries, and although her future was unknown & the treatments were awful, she used the courage she had built to this point, and she fought back. She fought back hard, the treatments this time taking a bigger impact physically and emotionally, but Ellen won the round. The Summer of 2013, she had worked to get herself stronger. In the fall, with the help of Dan, Tim and Maggie, she forged on with courage to return to the volleyball court, became a hero to the girls she has coached, present and past, to our families, and to our community.
After going through two bouts of gastric cancer, it took an extremely harsh toll on her body, and after careful consideration, Ellen made the decision to retire from teaching in 2014, and have the 2014 volleyball season, be her last as head coach. There were better days to be had, and they were. In her recent year of retirement, Ellen has enjoyed traveling with Tim, spending time with her family, beaching it up in Florida to, and training the coolest labradoodles to be therapy dogs. About six weeks ago, Ellen has received the devastating news that her gastric cancer has relapsed again. But, it is with the courage that Ellen has built that she will fight this battle, the courage that she has displayed through it all, the courage that she forged with Jaime that will guide her. Courageously, in the last few weeks, The Toy family has established the We Serve First Foundation, turning their tragic news to something positive, raising money to help families with their own medical issues financially, so that student athletes can begin or start a club volleyball career or attend camps that they couldn't have afforded.
I only feel that it is appropriate to leave you with words written by my sister, who along with Ellen, had the courage to participate in a cancer project, by Autumn Stankay called Facing Hope. They were both beautifully photographed during cancer treatment, and asked to share their story. The book is used in cancer treatment centers, giving real life examples of people battling for their lives, diagnosed with cancer yet choosing to live with optimism and courage; unwilling to let their circumstances pull them down into a world of darkness.
She wrote this after receiving her bone marrow transplant in 2010:
"As I wait, I hope. I hope with the love and support of my family and with the people that have been there for me since age 14 as I battled this disease for the first time as a child. I hope with the help of my faith in God, which without I would not be strong. I hope with the help of my friends, some old, some new, because these are the people that keep you going. I hope with the help of my community and my work place. Their actions and extending a caring hand is such a powerful thing. I hope that at the end of all of this, I am another success story and Ellen and I with our volleyball twist on the story can speak out and advocate to other women and cancer survivors that “you can do it too!” As part of the human race we can all strive to achieve perfection, but what good is perfection without having people to share it with. I believe the true meaning of life is to find comfort in the people around us and to help those people in need of help. I believe everything happens for a reason, whether this reason is good or bad, and I believe that these battles I have faced made me a better person. I believe ‘what really matters’ in our lives are the everyday things we take for granted. I believe an important question we all must ask ourselves is not only “What do we value in life?”, but also, “Do I stop and take the time to notice the little things, the things that matter?” I hope the answer to this question is 'yes, I do.'"
Although, when writing this, Jaime’s hope for her and Ellen to be a success story with a volleyball twist had a different meaning. I know tonight, that her hope is fulfilled, receiving this award together, getting their story of courage out for you all to hear and carry with you, will continue to show people how to be courageous, how to have strength in the time of pain or grief.
Jaime was courage, Ellen is courage.