Robin Roberts receives Inspiration Award

I have a friend who hates my use of the word “awesome.” She prefers to reserve it for things she deems to be truly awe-inspiring. She wouldn’t have the least objection, though, to my using the word to describe Robin Roberts.

My love for Robin goes back to the first time I saw her during a women’s basketball broadcast on ESPN. It was in 1990, shortly after the Lady Vols had proven to me what an idiot I was for not appreciating the game earlier. Robin quickly became my favorite commentator, not only because she’s absolutely gorgeous, but also because she loves the game. And it’s obvious that those who play the game love her — last week, the WNBA let Roberts know what she meant to professional women’s basketball by presenting her with the 2008 WNBA Inspiration Award.

In case you are a Today Show-watcher and don’t know, Roberts is co-anchor of Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer — they are the first female pair to host a morning show. Between her Emmy Award-winning tenure at ESPN and her GMA audience, Roberts has developed quite a following. So, when she went public about her diagnosis with breast cancer last year, the outpouring of support was immediate and dramatic. (Kleenex alert!)

She was back on air a few weeks after successful surgery and stayed on throughout her chemotherapy treatments. A few years ago, I had the privilege of being chemo buddy to a good friend with breast cancer and I can tell you, being on television is not a job you’d want during the process. But Robin chose to share her journey, keeping a breast cancer video diary and allowing us to witness her highs and lows, including when she had her head shaved.

She continued to wear a wig on the air, saying that she didn’t want to distract from GMA content. But one of the best segments of GMA content this year was when Robin accepted a dare to be a runway model in a fashion show — and she chose to go commando, sans both undies and wig.

She was radiant, and I bet a lot of folks went to work that morning with puffy eyes. I know I did.

A few more months passed before she decided to ditch the wig altogether. Not surprisingly, Robin is as stunning without hair as she is with. Perhaps more so.

At the WNBA Inspiration Awards luncheon, Roberts praised the women who have achieved their dreams of playing pro basketball:

It’s humbling to be receiving an award for inspiration sitting in a room full of people who have inspired so many.

That kind of humility, of course, makes her all the more inspiring. But she does understand that her success in life gives her the unique opportunity to encourage others:

I know how it feels to hear, “Oh, you have cancer.” You just got punched in the stomach. Your world is turned upside down. You can’t comprehend what’s going on. I know the anger and I know the fear. Because you know those things, you look in their eyes: “You can do it.”

Robin, you are an inspiration and a true hero. And, yes, awesome.