Liam Hendriks accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2023 ESPYS held in Los Angeles Wednesday night.
The White Sox closer was joined at the ceremony by his wife, Kristi, which was more than fitting with Kristi being by her husband’s side throughout a battle against Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he announced via Instagram on Dec. 8. Hendriks was given a standing ovation by an audience filled with the best athletes in the world upon receiving the honor on stage from Chris Berman, but immediately turned the applause to Kristi.
“The real hero is that little lady down there,” Hendriks said. “She’s my rock. She is my world.”
ESPN moved into the presentation with a five-minute video detailing Hendriks’ life, but focused primarily on his cancer battle, with Hendriks officially announcing he was cancer-free and in remission on April 20. After undergoing eight rounds of chemotherapy and four rounds of immunotherapy -- as Hendriks mentioned during his five-minute speech -- he returned to the mound on May 29 at home against the Angels.
In Wednesday’s speech, Hendriks talked about how cancer changes you and how it changed him for the better. He mentioned pitching through the ’22 season with undiagnosed Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma -- when he was an All-Star and had 37 saves in 58 appearances, hitting 100 mph with his fastball at times.
He has a 5.40 ERA and one save over five games since his ’23 return, although he’s currently on the injured list with right elbow inflammation. His ability to come back from this battle and pitch somewhere close to his old form was not solely a physical marvel.
“That’s all this,” said Hendriks, pointing to his mind during his speech. “That’s all mental.”
Hendriks thanked the White Sox, his family and friends and gave a special thanks to his doctor, Allison Rosenthal, at the Mayo Clinic. She delivered the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis to Liam and Kristi, but quickly told them, “I’m not worried.”
Those words meant more to Liam and Kristi than anything. Hendriks implored others to reach out to people who were going through something similar to what he went through, whether it’s cancer or anxiety or any other battle, because every contact, every connection helps.
At 33 years old, Stage 4 cancer was “not exactly the offseason I had planned,” Hendriks added. All he could do was tackle it and advance.
His speech closed with the iconic words from the late Jimmy Valvano, originally delivered during the ESPYS with the national championship coach’s body ravaged by cancer.
“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,” Hendriks said. “And I won’t."