On Friday, former Steelers running back and Pitt product James Conner was back in Pittsburgh to present the James Conner Courage Award to the nurse who treated him when he was battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 and 2016. The nurse, Carrie Richards, is now going through the very same illness.
“We’re giving the James Conner Courage Award and I get to give it to one of my former nurses, so everything is special about tonight,” Conner said at the 7th annual Dr. Stanley Marks Blood-Cancer Research Foundation Dinner via Bob Pompeani of KDKA. “It’s good to see everybody, it’s good to be back in Pittsburgh…it’s a big honor for me.”
Conner surprised Richards by showing up to the event at Heinz Field.
“I did not know you were going to be here, but what you accomplished is absolutely incredible without having cancer and after going through it, I just want you to know that I know how amazing it is that you were still able to accomplish your dreams and that is so inspiring for the rest of us,” an emotional Richards said to Conner and the rest of the crowd.
Conner won the courage award from Dr. Stanley Marks in 2016 after he returned to the field just three months after announcing that he was cancer-free. Conner proceeded to rush for 1,092 yards on 216 carries and 16 touchdowns in 13 games that season. He also had 21 receptions for 302 yards and four touchdowns.
Following his career at Pitt, Conner was drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. With Le’Veon Bell sitting out for the entire 2018 season because of a contract dispute, Conner took over the reins and had a Pro Bowl season, rushing for 973 yards on 215 carries and 12 touchdowns.
A combination of injuries and the offensive line aging led to subpar seasons for Conner in 2019 and 2020. From 2017-2020, Conner missed 13 games (including the playoffs) due to injury and never played a full season. He also missed two games in 2020 as a result of being on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
With his career fizzling out in Pittsburgh, the Erie native signed with the Cardinals in free agency following the 2020 season. The fresh start in Arizona did wonders for Conner, as he had 15 rushing touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl in 2021. Conner’s 15 rushing touchdowns were tied for the second-most in the league. He also had three touchdown receptions.
In June of 2020, Conner released an autobiography called “Fear Is a Choice: Tackling Life’s Challenges with Dignity, Faith, and Determination.” Conner candidly shares his experiences during his battle with cancer in the autobiography and offers wisdom and advice for anyone who has faced adversity and how to tackle life’s problems with dignity, faith, and determination.