I casually knew Mike for years, but really didn't get to know him as well as I did until the last couple of years of his life. In 2009 and early 2010, he and I helped Rich Johns, the coach of girls' varsity basketball at Saratoga Springs High School. Nolan, who graduated from South High two years before Johns, was a very knowledgeable basketball coach. Early in my career I knew Mike through the local high school coaches' fraternity of basketball, cross country and track.
Back on February 1, 2010, I stood in line at the Singleton and Healy Funeral Home in Queensbury on an extremely windy and bitter cold day. There were so many people there for the calling hours - I'm guessing there had to be over 2,000 or maybe 3,000 people - seriously! I was in line outside for about an hour and a half and inside for another hour and a half before I was able to express my condolences to his wife and family. The funeral home was quite large and I initially thought that maybe there were two separate wakes going on at the same time. I was wrong! There were people of all backgrounds, including former students, former players, colleagues, medical staff and friends. What a tribute to Mike. It was an overwhelming display of love and concern for his family.
Who was Mike Nolan, and what were his convictions? Mike was a fighter. Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, he was given about six months to live. But he wouldn't have it. Mike researched cancer care hospitals and clinics across the country and found the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, one of the best in the world. When traveling to Houston he would usually travel with his sisters and their husbands, and of course, his wife, Kris. At the Cancer Center he connected to an internationally well known Oncologist, Dr. Edward Kim, who grew to love and respect Coach Nolan. Mike put on his metaphorical boxing gloves, and with the aid of his doctors and support from his family and friends, he began fighting the odds. There were many cheerleaders, his most loving wife, Kristine, his daughter Kari and son Sean, and the dedicated network of family and friends. He was a man of faith and spirituality, and he felt that he was given the gift of more time thanks to the help of his team of doctors and later, the High Peaks Hospice group. He became a familiar face at the Houston Center and one of the favorites. Besides his wife and kids, there were his three grandchildren, Mae, Maggie and Mac Ryan, Mike's sisters, Patricia Shae and Linda Trasacco and their husbands, and his amazing aunt Jeanne Nolan who all were the voices of encouragement and love.
When Mike, Pat and Linda were little, both of their parents, William and Lucille, died during the same calendar year. His aunt Jeanne Nolan took over and dedicated her life to the kids and became their caregiver and surrogate mother. Rich Johns and his wife Karen were good friends with the Nolans. Karen and Kris taught together at the Ballard Road Elementary School in the South Glens Falls School District. Rich and Mike were in high school at the same time but became close friends through their wives' friendship that developed through being colleagues.
In 2007, Mike received devastating news that his cancer had spread to his brain. After undergoing whole brain radiation, he returned home to find his support system stronger than ever from his family and friends. Mike and Kris wanted to give back and help others, but were not sure how to do so. In 2008, Rich and Karen Johns proposed that Mike should assemble his network of family and friends for a fundraiser. It was the beginning of an organization that was named "Faith-Family-Friends," one which became a reality when money was raised through an event at the Queensbury Hotel in November of 2008. It was incredible - hundreds of people gathered in attendance! In the two years of the program's existence, over $50,000 was collected and dedicated to the MD Anderson Cancer Center. In addition, the annual South Glens Falls High School Dance Marathon raised money and donated some of the funds to the MD Anderson Cancer Center Fund in Coach Nolan's name! Note that there is little federal money for lung cancer research due to the misapprehension that lung cancer affects only smokers, but as we know, that's not so. In November of 2009 (the second year of the fund raiser), Dr. Kim, who was so impressed, personally came from Texas to express his thanks. Dr. Kim taught a few biology classes at South High that day, and later attended the fundraiser at the Queensbury Hotel.
Knowing Mike in the last few years of his life turned out, for me, to be inspirational. Never did he complain to me or Rich Johns about the way he was feeling, although there were times we could see that he was struggling. Coach Johns and I still talk about some of the things he would say; they were always positive and motivating. The girls on the team just loved having him around and they appreciated his knowledge of basketball, but more than anything they really admired what he was about. They looked up to him! The Saratoga girls' varsity basketball team attended Coach Nolan's calling hours, as did the varsity girls' basketball team from South Colonie High School (Mike helped his niece, Heather Fiore, who is the head girls’ coach for south Colonie before helping us at Saratoga).
On Saturday, November 12, there is a footrace dedicated in Coach Nolan's name, The Mike Nolan 5K Run/Walk in South Glens Falls. Proceeds from the race go to the Mike Nolan Scholarship Fund at South High. Mike Nolan, the person and the coach, is still inspiring us as the fight continues in his memory. He was a man of purpose, integrity and courage! He will be remembered for who he was and for what he stood for. Mike left behind a legacy of "No Excuses - Do The Work" because "it is what it is!"
Coach, you are missed!