Virginia Tech interim AD a two-time cancer survivor and pioneering administrator

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During one of his final staff meetings as Virginia Tech's athletic director, Jim Weaver revealed how much pain he was enduring, how Parkinson's disease and two failing hips had not only fast-tracked his retirement but also compromised basic, daily living.

Weaver then paused and gazed at Sharon McCloskey, a department staple for 30 years.

"I know you understand what I'm talking about," he said.

Yes, she does.

But today, less than a year removed from a stem-cell transplant, McCloskey is pain-free, a second row with cancer in her rearview mirror. She took over as interim athletic director Jan. 1 confidently, firmly, and gracefully, and, most telling, with the universal support, trust and admiration of co-workers.

No wonder, for McCloskey has done it all for her alma mater, all the while embodying the selfless, family aura that permeates Virginia Tech athletics.

She's cut the grass at Lane Stadium, coordinated football recruiting and, for the last 18-plus years, worked tirelessly as senior associate athletic director. She served as interim AD prior to Weaver's 1997 hiring and in 2012 was inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.

"Sharon's been in it at the bottom level all the way to the top," said associate athletic director John Ballein, a close friend of McCloskey's. "So she knows inside-out the workings of our program. … She's a loyal, trustworthy person."

McCloskey appreciates such sentiment, but don't believe for a minute that as the interim she'll be stampeded like some helpless substitute teacher.

"I think people know how I operate," McCloskey said. "I don't mince words. I don't tell them what they want to hear. I tell them what I know to be the way it is. I follow university regulations, and NCAA and ACC, and if you're going to skew off of that, then we're going to have a problem. …

"I'm not going to come in here and in a month's time make sweeping changes. There will be no personnel (decisions), anything like that. I remember the last time (as the interim), I had people lining up, asking for promotions and raises. I was like, 'Uh, that's not going to happen. You'll have to see the new director.'

"It makes common sense. You want to wait until you have a new director in place and see what their vision is."

McCloskey, 58, does not aspire to be the new director. Seventeen years ago, she did.

Dave Braine, who twice promoted McCloskey, had resigned as AD and accepted the same position at Georgia Tech. McCloskey interviewed with Virginia Tech's search committee, but university president Paul Torgersen chose Weaver, then Western Michigan's athletic director.

McCloskey declined Braine's offer to join him in Atlanta — city life does not appeal to her — and stayed in Blacksburg, hopeful that Weaver would retain her.

"I think when you get into one of those job searches, you have to be prepared not to get it," McCloskey said. "I think I took it a lot better than people expected."

McCloskey had little time for disappointment as Weaver leaned on her early and often on matters ranging from personnel to finances. When quarterback Michael Vick became a national sensation in 1999 and 2000, Weaver appointed McCloskey to sift through the endless requests from fans, media and charities.

The Weaver-McCloskey bond morphed from professional to personal two years ago when McCloskey was first diagnosed with stage IV, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. If anyone could appreciate the challenges of juggling a stressful job with a serious health crisis, it was Weaver, coping with Parkinson's since 2004.

"We commiserate," Weaver said, "but both of us, I think, have fought to rise above our medical problems. … I have the utmost confidence in Sharon."

Though treatable, McCloskey's cancer had spread throughout her body. She underwent months of intense chemotherapy and missed six weeks of work.

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