RICHMOND, Va. -- Dick Sander has been around basketball most of his life. The former athletic director at VCU and East Tennessee State was a high school coach and played at Chattanooga in college.
"I was pretty good offensively, pretty bad defensively. I convinced myself I needed to save my energy to score. Looking back, I probably didn't put enough effort into defending," Sander said.
During his senior year, he hit 92% of his free throws. It's a skill that has stayed with Sander well into his 70s.
In November, he shot free throws for 24 hours straight, making nearly 4,000 shots and raising $150,000 for a charity that hits very close to home.
"Until Finnegan was born, our family never had any issue with this. Once you do, you realize how it changes the life path for families," Sander said.
Finnegan is Sander's grandson. He was born in 2014 with a birth defect that affects his digestive system.
Finnegan's Challenge is Sander's mission to raise money, support, and awareness to the challenges faced by families of children with birth defects.
"It's been really rewarding to see how much people care and want to help a worthwhile cause, that's been great," Sander said.
Sander began his new challenge on Dec. 15. His goal is to make 33,000 free throws by June 15, Finnegan's eighth birthday.
One in 33 children are born with some form of birth defect, and it can present many struggles for families.
"You try to create this path that gives him, I hate to use the word normal, but the most usual life path. That's always on your mind. How is he going to be when he's eight, nine, 12, 15. It continually plays on your mind," Sander said.
Sander's son, Jim, often rebounds for his dad. Jim and his wife were both collegiate athletes, and Finnegan is their son.
Much like parents everywhere, they both had dreams for him before he was born, dreams that changed dramatically shortly after his birth.
"They had aspirations that their children would follow somewhat in their footsteps. That's not going to happen now. You have to come into reality and figure out how to deal with that. Enjoy those things that your child can do and help them that way," Sander said.
There are three goals that Sander hopes to achieve through this effort.
- Developing a social platform for families to share experiences
- Raising money for research at the Strong Brain Institute at ETSU
- Training teachers on how to deal not only with the children born with birth defects but their peers and siblings on ways to accept a child's differences
"He still has a condition that will never be cured. The doctors have been great. They've mitigated the issue but it's still something he'll live with the rest of his life. Trying to work that with him, but he's a happy little guy. He makes me smile every time I see him," Sander said.
So every day, Sander finds a ball and a hoop.
"I've shot every day since December 15. The other night, I only made three but at least I made three," Sander said.
Through sore shoulders and elbows, he will keep shooting. When this challenge is done, he will simply start another one.
"If you have any ideas, let me know. We're going to do something, we're not giving up. Sometime in the fall, I made 3,956 last year in 24 hours. My goal is going to be to do more than that. I think I can do a lot more than that,"