Devon Still may have been handed an ESPY during an emotional presentation on Wednesday night, but he knew it really belonged in the hands of its courageous recipient.
The Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman's name is on the trophy for the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, but in his mind, it belongs to one person. His daughter, Leah, 5, was not able to attend the ceremony in Los Angeles as she continues her inspiring fight against cancer, so he made sure the world could see her holding her trophy by posting a picture on Instagram late Thursday night.
"I know you wish you could be here, but I know you're watching," he said during the ESPYs broadcast. "I just want to thank you. From the moment you [were] born, you molded me into the man I am today. I always used to dream about how I was going to be able to show you so much about life, but in the five years I've been with you, you've taught me more about life than I could ever do."
Leah appeared on screen during the broadcast in a taped message in which she said, "Sorry I couldn't be here everybody, but thank you for supporting me while I beat up cancer."
It was the latest inspirational moment in a year that has been full of them since Leah's diagnosis of Stage IV neuroblastoma in June 2014. Doctors found a tumor in her stomach and gave her a 50/50 chance to survive. That was followed by Devon being cut by the Bengals, who then assigned him to the practice squad so that he would have health insurance to care for his daughter as well as a regular income.
Devon eventually returned to the Bengals' roster, and the team donated profits from the sale of his jersey to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital to fight pediatric cancers. Leah has become a public face in the fight against pediatric cancer, starring in the Sarah Bareilles and Cyndi Lauper video "Truly Brave" put together by TODAY's Hoda Kotb that raised more than $500,000 for the American Cancer Society and writing a children's book with Devon called "I Am Leah Strong." She also walked the runway at the Nike Levi's Kids Fashion Show at New York City's Fashion Week.
In May, Leah suffered a "pretty serious complication" related to a stem-cell transplant, according to Devon, but she has continued to fight, reminiscent of the namesake of her ESPY Award, former North Carolina State men's basketball coach Jim Valvano. He died in 1993, shortly after giving an unforgettable speech at the ESPYs in which he famously said, "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."