INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Brand is still carrying the banner for America's young athletes, even as he continues waging a bigger battle in his own life.
The 67-year-old NCAA president, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January, used an awards ceremony Sunday night in Indianapolis to remind people how rewarding it can be to help others.
"It's been my great pleasure to help lead the work of the NCAA these past seven years," he said. "I believe it's a great mission, and we are now harvesting the benefits of our hard work."
Brand was talking about the increase in graduation rates, which he has championed since taking over the NCAA in January 2003.
Since January, Brand has scaled back on public appearances. He skipped the NCAA's annual convention in metro Washington while undergoing treatment and did not travel to San Antonio or Orlando, Fla., recently to pick up other awards.
This time, Brand simply couldn't miss the opportunity to share the stage with three other high-profile names -- Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and WNBA star Tamika Catchings -- who were all honored for their commitment to young people.
Clearly, Brand was the focal point.
Though Brand's dark suit made him look noticeably thinner, he and his wife, Peg, managed to climb a few stairs and pose for pictures with the 2009 Pathfinder Award before Brand briefly addressed the crowd. His acceptance speech lasted less than five minutes and included the same strong, passionate tone he has so often used to persuade his critics in the past.
Some of those in the crowd were longtime friends.
Susan Williams, president of Indiana Sports Corp., which co-hosts the awards with Indiana Black Expo, has been trading restaurant recommendations with Brand for years. She and Brand have worked closely on some of the city's biggest projects, including the men's and women's Final Fours in Indianapolis and both live in the downtown area.
Also attending was Terry Clapacs, who served in Brand's administration at Indiana University. Clapacs is retiring after 43 years at the school on Tuesday, and he said the two still get together regularly for lunch.
"He's doing well," Clapacs said. "He is strong. He is a man of strength. Like everything else, he has been challenged by this, but he is a man of courage."
And, clearly, one the Sports Corp. board regarded as a man of conviction in regards to helping youngsters.
The Nicklauses also received a Pathfinder Award for their contributions in causes ranging from junior golf programs to children's hospitals and scholarship foundations.
Barbara Nicklaus said she and Jack made a commitment shortly after getting married that they would help children if they could.
"We almost lost our daughter when she was 13 months old, and when you have a hospital staff that helps you like that, you get hooked," Barbara Nicklaus said.
Catchings, who plays for the Indiana Fever, is involved in a variety of charitable causes throughout Indianapolis including her own foundation -- Catch The Stars. She received the Rev. Charles Williams Award for work within the city.
"Some of my happiest moments come from working with kids in the Indiana communities," she said.
It seemed to resonate with Brand, too.
"I have come to understand that this community is respectful of its youth and committed to their development," Brand told about 700 people.
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