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A Meaningful March Madness

How a North Texas family uses grief, shoes and March Madness to keep son’s ‘spirit alive’

After losing their “sneakerhead” son to adrenal cancer, Tom and Judy Hund use his massive collection to get back a little of what they lost.

(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)
Tom and Judy Hund, parents of late Dan Hund poses with their dogs Parker (left) and Pinto, Dan’s dog, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at their home in Westlake. Dan Hund, who was a sneaker enthusiast, passed away in April 2020 after an eighteen-month battle with adrenal cancer.

By Kevin Sherrington
Originally published in Dallas Morning News - 11:00 AM on Mar 9, 2023

When Tom and Judy Hund walked through their son’s house in Oak Cliff, getting it ready for sale, they couldn’t believe what they found in his closet. Dozens and dozens of shoes. A hundred or more.

All colors, all types, all brands. Row after row. Some boxed, all arranged. Most never worn. The Hunds didn’t know what to make of it. They knew their only son liked sneakers, but they didn’t know this.

The things you learn about your children.

Things that make you smile.

Things that break your heart.

Like when Dan called his dad in 2018 to tell him the pain in his back wasn’t just a bad disk.

“They think I’ve got cancer,” he said.

Just like that, the Hunds’ lives would never be the same. Over the next 18 months, they allowed themselves to think only of what could keep their son alive. On April 21, 2020, the Hunds started looking to preserve his memory.

The Dan Hund Memorial to Stomp Out Cancer is an official tribute to the courage, fight and selflessness of a beloved son lost at 35 to adrenal cancer, a rare and often deadly form. The memorial has been a boon to research, a nod to Dan’s love of sports and a raid on his shoe inventory.

This is how it goes: Fill out a March Madness bracket and donate wherever your heart leads. If you win or finish second, you get a pair of Dan’s shoes.

And the Hunds get back a little of what they lost.

“Grief is really hard to figure out,” Tom said. “Immediately after Dan passed, we both went through some very, very difficult, emotional times. But I think it’s better to talk about him, even if it’s hard. Better to talk about him than cram it down inside like this never happened.

“This is absolutely a means of keeping his spirit alive.”

From a field of donors the first two years that was not much larger than friends and family, the Hunds raised and matched what came to $262,000. The money, all of which goes to research at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has funded the hiring of two post-doctoral fellows, one doing research in adrenal studies and the other on bone metastasis. The fund also supports what Dan’s oncologist, Matt Campbell, calls the largest study ever conducted on adrenal cancer, starting next month.

Given there’s been no publicity, not even on social media, it seems a little remarkable that contestants entered 200 brackets the first year and 300 the next. The Hunds, who match whatever they raise, are eager to see how big the effort can get.

Because they’re ready to give away some shoes.

(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)
Tom Hund, father of late Dan Hund, organizes a part of Dan’s sneaker collection on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at their home in Westlake. Dan Hund, who was a sneaker enthusiast, passed away in April 2020 after an eighteen-month battle with adrenal cancer.

Pursuit of adventure

Todd Dodge didn’t learn of Dan Hund’s death until a reunion of Southlake Carroll’s 2002 state championship team, which had been the first of Dodge’s four titles with the Dragons. Dan, who was 6-2, 260 in high school, had been a reserve offensive lineman in ‘02.

“The bigger thing about Dan,” Dodge said, “was he was one of those young men who never had a bad day.

“Always had a smile on his face.”

Dan wasn’t good enough to play football in college, but he was smart enough to graduate cum laude from TCU with a master’s in accounting in 2008, work for a couple of big firms for seven years, make good money. He sunk a lot of it in a 160-foot boat, co-founding an adventure company cruising Alaska as well as the Sea of Cortez.

If a son of mine said he wanted to buy a 160-foot boat and make a living out of it, I would have asked him for his second-best idea. Tom Hund had no such misgivings.

“I probably would have had a different opinion if he hadn’t already spent almost a decade working in financial jobs,” said Tom, a retired CFO of BNSF Railway. “He was well-educated, a hard worker. He wasn’t the kind of guy who just chased a hare-brained idea. I mean, I wouldn’t have done it. I couldn’t have done it. But, you know, he was single, and he didn’t have any vices.

“I think he spent his money on his shoes.”

Barry Church liked a lot of things about Dan, but the shoes might have been No. 1. Church was still playing safety for the Cowboys when he met Dan in 2012. Church’s wife and the wife of Dan’s TCU roommate are best friends. Church liked Dan right away. Good dude. Down to earth. Dry wit. Smartest guy in the room, not that he ever let on. Church admired his humility.

But mostly it was the shoes.

“I thought I was a big sneakerhead,” Church said. “I needed all the kicks. He was a huge sneakerhead. The only thing different, he liked all colors. Pink. Purple. Fuchsia. Any bright color. He loved it.”

Because of his Nike endorsement while he was in the NFL, Church got any shoes he liked. He and Dan would spend hours figuring out what they wanted, then Church would order two pairs. Helped that they both wore size 12.

Dan didn’t just limit himself to Nikes. He wore anything, the louder the better.

“He had me beat, man,” Church said, laughing. “You’d go in his closet, and you couldn’t even move. It was impossible. He took his love of shoes to the next level.”

It was the sneakers that Matt Campbell noticed the first time Dan showed up at MD Anderson.

“Very impressive basketball shoes,” the oncologist recalled.

Dan and Campbell bonded over college basketball and Chicago Bears football. They got to know each other fast. Over 18 months, Dan and Tom made 40 trips to Houston for treatment of the adrenal cancer, already at stage 4 when diagnosed. Because of the positioning of the adrenal glands, above the kidneys, diagnoses often don’t come until it’s too late.

Dan’s last 18 months turned out to be cycle upon cycle. Radiation and chemotherapy. Surgery. Hopes raised. Hopes crushed. More radiation. Immunotherapy. Targeted therapy drugs.

Needle after needle after needle.

“More therapy than anyone should have to go through,” Campbell said.

Dan made it more painful than necessary. Every biopsy they took, Dan told them do one more. For research.

Close to the end, Dan told his father not a day had gone by over the previous year that he didn’t feel some sort of pain. It didn’t seem like a complaint, Tom said, as much as an observation. Dan didn’t complain. Not to his doctors, and not to his friends. His strolls through MD Anderson’s halls left him believing others were worse off.

“When he was going through his cancer treatments,” Church said, “it was tough to watch. It showed me how strong of a man he was. He always made it to my son’s games or birthdays or whatever we did. And he never complained.”

Church took to calling his friend “Ox.”

“He was definitely the strongest man I ever met.”

Because of COVID, the cast of mourners at Dan’s 2020 memorial service in Westlake was limited to a handful. The Hunds, including their daughter, Vicki. A few college friends. Church was there. He called himself “blessed” to have the opportunity.

In memory of their friendship, he donated most of his shoe collection to the Dan Hund Memorial to Stomp Out Cancer.

Sneakers belonging to late Dan Hund, chosen for this year’s top finishers at the NCAA basketball tournament bracket contest on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at their home in Westlake. Dan Hund passed away in April 2020 after an eighteen-month battle with adrenal cancer. The contest is to raise funds for adrenal cancer research in Dan’s honor. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Stepping up

Some of Dan’s shoes, the Hunds gave to charity. Some went to relatives. Still, there were shoes.

The sheer volume sparked an idea.

Matt Campbell grew up in Indiana, where there’s a hoop in every driveway. Dan loved the NCAA Tournament. What if the Hunds created a fundraiser around March Madness? The winner would receive a pair of Dan’s sneakers.

After the first year, Tom, 69, realized at that rate of attrition, the inventory would last long after his lifetime. So, last year, they increased it to a couple of pairs.

In honor of LeBron James surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer this year, the Hunds picked a pair of Nike LeBron XVIs for the winner. Red with mottled gold on the heels. Second place will be a speckled gray pair of Adidas Alphabounces. They look like something Steve Irwin would have worn in the bush.

In describing the trophies, Campbell called them “unique, colorful, rare,” which might have described the previous owner. Dan knew he wouldn’t beat adrenal cancer. But he knew someone would, and he wanted to live long enough to be part of the reason.

The Hunds take comfort in that, and in who Dan was and will always be.

“He was wonderful,” his father said.

Anyone interested in the March Madness pool benefiting the Dan Hund Memorial to Stomp Out Cancer should email [email protected].

Participants will receive instructions by email indicating how they can donate and enter their brackets.

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