Burt named Comeback Award winner

CARY, N.C. - University of Washington junior Kayla Burt was named the recipient of the fifth annual V Foundation Comeback Award, given annually by The V Foundation for Cancer Research in collaboration with ESPN. ESPN will make the announcement during tonight's coverage of the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. PT.

The Comeback Award is open to men and women collegiate basketball student-athletes in all NCAA divisions. It is awarded to an individual or a team who has accomplished a personal triumph in the face of true adversity, be it in health, life or moral dilemma. The award is presented in memory of Jim Valvano, the late basketball coach and ESPN commentator, whose personal battle with cancer inspired the creation of The V Foundation. In his memorable speech at ESPN's inaugural ESPY Awards announcing the creation of The V Foundation, Valvano's "Don't Give Up. . .Don't Ever Give Up!"® motto created a legacy from which the Comeback Award has been created.

"I am honored to present the Comeback Award to Kayla Burt," V Foundation CEO Nick Valvano said. "Through her amazing determination and perseverance, she embodies the spirit of this award. Kayla has overcome tremendous physical adversity. She believed in herself and her ability to return to the court. She always remained an important part of the team. She never gave up."

Burt demonstrated great strength and determination in her return to college basketball this season after suffering a cardiac arrest on New Year's Eve, 2002. The redshirt junior, who was initially kept alive by quick-thinking teammates who performed CPR, was in a coma for 15 hours following her cardiac arrest. She was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, a rare genetic heart condition, and a defibrillator was implanted in her chest. Burt, who was told her basketball career was over, served as a student assistant for her team for a year and a half.

During that time, Burt visited the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in an attempt to better understand Long QT Syndrome. There she was told she did not have the heart condition, which opened the door to the possibility of returning to basketball. Over the next few months she consulted with doctors and underwent numerous tests. She talked with her parents, Ken and Teri. On August 17, 2004, she was granted permission by the University of Washington to rejoin her team.

The Arlington, Wash., native returned to the court for the 2004-05 season, starting 16 of the 29 games in which she played. A team captain, Burt led Washington with 9.6 points and 2.9 assists per game while ranking second on the squad with 1.5 steals per contest.

"Kayla Burt's return to the game of basketball exemplifies her courage and passion to compete for the `love of the game' with her Husky teammates," said June Daugherty, the head women's basketball coach at the University of Washington. "Being chosen by The V Foundation as the Comeback Player of the Year is the highest honor one can receive, as Coach V was the all-time Heavyweight Champion of the fight versus cancer. His ability to give 100 percent effort towards this battle was amazing. Coach V's spirit will live on through several others like Kayla who are moved and inspired by his courageous fighting spirit."

"Kayla is focused and determined. She is a leader with a true passion for the game," Valvano said. "Those words also described my brother Jim. We're extremely honored for Kayla to receive this award that represents those qualities that Jim possessed and that embodies his `Never Give Up' spirit. Her effort, enthusiasm, desire and passion for the game all would have endeared her to Jim."

"It is such an honor to win this award," Burt said. "Jim Valvano was such an inspiration and a hero to so many people, so to receive this award is very humbling."

More than 50 student-athletes were nominated by their institutions for the 2005 V Foundation Comeback Award. A sub-committee of The V Foundation Board of Directors selected Burt from 17 finalists, all of whom had compelling come-back stories of their own.

Past recipients of the award are Purdue's Katie Douglas (2001), Western Michigan's Kristin Koetsier (2002), Arizona State's Justin Allen (2003) and Texas' Jamie Carey (2004).

The 2005 finalists were: Chante Bonds, Bentley College; Kayla Burt, University of Washington; Darren Cooper; University of Portland; Grant Dykstra, Western Washington University; the Florida State University women's basketball team; Cisti Greenwalt, Texas Tech University; Jeff Hemschoot, Fairleigh Dickinson University -Florham; Bernard Jackson, College of Charleston; Will Kimble, University of Texas - El Paso; Marsha Kinder, Bridgewater College; Brittney Kroon, Seattle Pacific University;  Tyler McKinney, Creighton University; James Roberson, Bemidji State University; Sheray Thomas, University of Kentucky; Nicole Vlajkovich, Bethany College; Larry Welton, Aurora University; Amber Wheeler, Southwest Baptist University; and Kitus Witherspoon, Arkansas State University.

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