2016 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Ja’Juan Seider, West Virginia

Each of the six finalists for the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 18.


University: West Virginia University

Vitals: Running Backs Coach

Quick Hits: Seider began his collegiate playing career at West Virginia before transferring to Florida A&M after earning his bachelor’s degree at WVU. After great success at Florida A&M where he earned All-America honors, Seider was drafted in the sixth round by the San Diego Chargers. … A successful high school coach in his home state of Florida, the former college quarterback returned to WVU as a graduate assistant coach and earned his masters degree. … In 2010 he accepted a full-time coaching position at Marshall where he was the recruiting coordinator and running backs coach. After an extremely successful three-year run at Marshall, Seider returned to where it all started, Morgantown, in 2013 to coach the running back at West Virginia.


Seider and his wife, Brandi, are no different than any other parents. When their teenage son was diagnosed with Hodgkin nodular lymphoma in early 2015, the Seider’s became a family on a mission to help Jaden in any way possible to battle his rare form of cancer.

Ja’Juan and Brandi knew their son was tough and believed if anybody was equipped for this battle it was Jaden. But what they discovered was the Seider family wasn’t in this alone.

The West Virginia football team became a strong support element for the Seider family, helping to bring awareness to rare disease cancers. This was still about Jaden and his battle, but through this the Seider’s learned they had a platform that could be used to help others.

Jaden spent nine weeks in the West Virginia University Children’s Hospital right across the street from the Mountaineers stadium. Learning from the inside about the staff and people at the hospital, it inspired the Seider’s to want to do more and help other families in a similar situation.

Overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, the family started #SeiderStrong – a social media campaign where the sale of wrist bands and t-shirts would directly benefit the WVU Children’s Hospital.


The Bible verse Joshua 1:9 says “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” This particular verse has special meaning to the Seider family.

Nine weeks in the hospital was followed by weekly intense chemotherapy treatments that would take several hours to complete.

Through those months of weekly treatments, the Seider’s learned Jaden was even stronger than they thought. His upbeat attitude and overwhelming positive attitude had an impact on the West Virginia football team.

The players knew weekly treatments were not easy, but yet each Thursday after his chemotherapy was complete he would head over to football practice and interact with the players as if nothing was wrong.

His treatment is complete and the tumor, while smaller, is still there. The doctors are confident over time, his quarterly scans will continue to show the tumor shrinking until it eventually ceases to exist.


“We want to be able to help people who have to travel 3-4 hours to get treatments at WVU Hospital. It’s not easy. We understand and have been there and are here to help” I would definitely say (Jayden) is brave and courageous. But above all else he is a fighter.” – Brandi Seider

“You kinda take for granted the little things. Then something like this happens and you realize how important they are. The proudest moment for me was being able to go in the front yard and throw with my son again. That was the biggest joy for me, being able to go out in the front yard and just throw the football.” – Ja’Juan Seider



2016 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Zachary Schreiber, Liberty University

Each of the six finalists for the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 18.



University: Liberty University

Vitals: 6-1, 210-pound senior linebacker

Quick Hits: Playing college football was always about getting an education for the native of Hagerstown, Md. Schreiber started his football career at Division III McDaniel College close to home in Maryland. … After a semester, Schreiber felt called to attend Liberty University – a Christian-based school in Lynchburg, Va. – so he transferred and was allowed to walk on for the FCS program. … In 2013 he saw playing time on special teams and as a back-up linebacker. Schreiber was excited to take another step forward on the field prior to the 2014 season.

During summer workouts prior to the 2014 season, Schreiber battled stomach issues. His original diagnosis was an infection, but when the symptoms not only continued but escalated as he continued to lose weight battling his rare disease – nearly 40 pounds in a six-week stretch. So Schreiber returned home to Maryland and was ultimately diagnosed with the rare disease Ulcerative Colitis (UC) at Johns Hopkins.


Deep down, Schreiber knew something serious was going on with his body. And looking back now, he admits there was an element of fear associated with the unknown. His diagnosis of UC included a double whammy of information he wasn’t fully prepared for. He had the more severe type of UC so his treatment protocol was going to take some time, and not being able to play football ever again was a real possibility.

Schreiber tried to remain optimistic, but he still had plenty of doubt to overcome. And getting back on the football field was a priority that drove him. A young man of great faith and dedicated to serving others with his life, Schreiber always felt equipped to handle this part of his life journey.


Schreiber will always have flare-ups and setbacks related to his battle with UC. It is something that will not go away. Accepting that, he went back to work and gained enough wait to return to the field the second half of the 2014 season for the Flames.

His monthly treatments and flare-ups that cause him to sometimes lose up to 10 pounds in a week did not prevent Schreiber from fully enjoying his final season as a college football player in 2015.

This ongoing battle with his rare disease that occasionally makes it hard for him to even get out of bed only galvanized Schreiber in his pursuit of a medical career in order to help and serve others. After receiving his undergraduate degree in biomedical science this spring, Schreiber plans to attend physician assistant school starting in the fall.



“This has definitely changed me. I never take life or anything for granted. I wake up in the morning each day and am grateful that I can take a breath. There is someone always watching you and looking up to you. And when you have a setback or something happens to you people are watching. And they want to see how you rebound. People have told me I am such an inspiration to them through my journey. For me, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have had an influence on something in my life.” – Zachary Schreiber

“We weren’t sure what was going on in the beginning, he was getting tests run at the hospital and stuff. I started to get a little scared for him. I would text or call him like every other day and he was such an encouragement to me how positive he was about it. Ever since then I’ve put some tape on my wrist, put his number on there and write ‘Nothing For Granted’ just to remind myself.” – Fellow Liberty LB Dylan Lewellyn



2016 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Marcus Rios, UCLA

Each of the six finalists for the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 18.



University: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Vitals: 6-0, 195-pound junior cornerback

Quick Hits: Rios was a finalist for the 2015 Rare Disease Champion award after overcoming his battle with an extremely rare disease and returning to the field for the 2015 season despite losing 50 pounds during his battle. He came back bigger and stronger for the 2015 Bruins season and earned one of the starting cornerback spots. Rios played in all 13 games this past season for UCLA, recording 49 total tackles including 30 solo stops. Rios didn’t have an interception, but totaled seven pass break-ups.

One of 10 children to Richard and Ivy Rios, Marcus has seven brothers and two sisters. … Was a 4-star recruit and one of the top 25 cornerbacks in the country coming out of high school. Enrolled early at UCLA and participated in 2012 spring practice. … Saw action in nine games as a true freshman on special teams and as a reserve in the secondary. … Missed all of the 2013 season before returning to participate in all 12 games in 2014 on special teams and part-time duty in the secondary.

Rios’ story was featured on the television series “Monster Inside Me” earlier this year on the Animal Planet channel.


It took doctors three surgeries to finally figure out what Marcus Rios was up against. His condition, Aspergillosis, was extremely rare and deadly. Rios was told of the 12 previous confirmed cases similar to his, eight had died and two of the four who survived initially later died. It quickly became apparent Rios was in a fight for his life.

Initially Rios believed he had a sinus infection. But as the symptoms and pain escalated to the point where sleep was impossible and it was hard to even see, playing football took a back seat. Rios could barely get out of bed, and simple everyday tasks we all take for granted were impossible.

Richard Rios and his wife Ivy quit their jobs and left their Sacramento home to set up camp at UCLA Medical Center to support their son. His room, where he spent 28 days under intense care of specialists, overlooked Spaulding Field so he could watch his teammates practice. During those dark days, being able to see his teammates practice provided Rios with the inspiration to keep fighting.


It was made clear to Rios when he was admitted to the UCLA Medical Center that he might not survive. The infection that had invaded Rios’ brain usually gets to a critical level because of a weakened immune system.

What confused the doctors even more was Rios’ immune system was strong and healthy. Rios and his father would rise each morning at 7 a.m. during their stay in the medical center to watch the Bruins practice. It was at times a harsh reminder of what he was missing, but also served as an inspiration.

The several surgeries and treatments left Rios’ body ravaged. An elite 180-pound athlete when arrived at UCLA in 2012, he lost nearly 50 pounds and this one-time prized DB recruit was down to 130 pounds.

But he was alive. And although his condition requires continued monitoring with the possibly additional surgeries, Rios was a healthy 195 pounds as a starting cornerback this season for the Bruins.


“I’ve came a long way (since the illness). I always knew the day I got out of the hospital, I would work hard every day, push my teammates. I focused on putting in the time to get better. That’s what was always expected of me when I came here.” Marcus Rios on starting for the Bruins in 2015

 “We don’t fear things that we can’t control. That kid has been through a lot at a very early age and he stayed positive. It’s been an incredible ordeal.” – Richard Rios


2016 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Jake Olson, USC

Each of the six finalists for the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 18.


University: University of Southern California (USC)

Vitals: 6-4, 195-pound freshman long snapper

Quick Hits: Became a member of the football team he grew up loving, USC, in the fall. … Was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at birth and lost his left eye to the disease when he was 10 months old. Despite radiation, chemotherapy and procedures, had his right eye removed and lost his sight completely at age 12 in 2009. … An inspirational speaker and author, Olson has co-written two books about his rare disease journey and overcoming adversity. … Graduate of Orange Lutheran HS in California where he served as the varsity football long snapper as a junior and senior. His teammates would guide him into position over the ball. … Olson also played golf at Orange Lutheran and regularly shoots in the 80s. … Enrolled at USC on a Swim With Mike’s Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund. Because that scholarship is regarded as athletic aid, USC sought and received a waiver from the NCAA so that he did not count against the Trojans’ NCAA-mandated 85 scholarship roster limit. He uses a guide dog named Quebec. … Added as a reserve walk-on at USC in 2015 and dressed for the first time as a member of the USC team against Stanford.


Even before he arrived at USC to start his college career, Olson had already done more to help others than most accomplish in a lifetime. His rare disease journey with retinoblastoma was personal, but he made sure it did not define who he is or slow him down. And he’s all about helping others, because that’s who Olson is.

His story is nationally known because of his relationship with former USC coach Pete Carroll. Prior to losing his eyesight completely, the Trojans made sure Olson was able to soak in as much USC Trojans football as he wanted.

Since Olson completely lost his sight in 2009 at the age of 12, he has continued to flourish on so many fronts. And he uses the platform he was given to help others individuals and their families. The second book he co-authored, Open Your Eyes, is a revealing way of thinking living and praying that have kept him and his family triumphant in the face of adversity.

Olson’s journey with football didn’t end in 2009, either. He will always be a huge USC fan. But prior to his junior year he wanted to play football. His high school coach said he would grant him the opportunity to earn his spot on the team, but it would not be a charity case. And that’s exactly the way Olson wanted it. After countless hours of work, he became a well-oiled long snapper for extra points and field goals.

His acceptance into USC was earned, too. His high school resume read like an admissions board dream. He carried a 4.3 GPA, played varsity football and golf, sang in the school choir, co-wrote two faith-based books about overcoming adversity and has been featured several times on national television. He is also an accomplished public speaker and, through his Out of Sight Faith foundation, raises money to put technology in the hands of the blind.


Ask Olson and he’ll tell you he’s fortunate to have been able to see with one until the age of 12. That’s just the lens he views life.

He’s never asked for anything extra because retinoblastoma took his sight. Olson was diagnosed with the rare disease at eight months old and shortly after that the cancer took his left eye before he was a year old.

For the next 11 years his vision was limited to his right eye, but more than a decade of being able to see was enough to last Olson a lifetime.

Despite many rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the retinoblastoma continues to progress in his right eye to the point where it had to be removed in 2009.


“Going through adversity or challenges in life, it really does make you stronger, life’s unfair, football’s unfair, things are unfair. But at the same time, it’s up to you how far you want to take yourself. It’s taught me not to give up. It’s taught me to keep fighting.” – Jake Olson




2016 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Mitchell Meyers, Iowa State

Each of the six finalists for the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 18.


University: Iowa State University

Vitals: 6-4, 260-pound senior defensive end

Quick Hits: A native of The Woodlands just outside of Houston, Texas, Meyers was a three-star recruit who quickly turned into a contributor for the cyclones. … Played in all 12 games in 2013 after a redshirt freshman season in 2012. … Became a starter in 2014 and was one of only four Cyclones to play all 12 games. He started at DE, but later moved inside and registered 30 tackles. … Was a First Team Academic All-Big 12 in 2013 and 2014. … 2015 Capitol One Orange Bowl FWAA Courage Award Finalist.

During the offseason in preparation for the 2015 season, Meyers noticed his neck was swollen. It felt like something random, and Meyers could not figure out why his neck was swollen. He figured it would just go away.


Meyers waited a few days to see what would happen with his swollen neck. Not only did it not go away, the simple swelling increased to the point where it felt like “somebody had their hand on my throat, like somebody was choking me.”

A trip to the team doctor yielded a series of tests and X-rays to rule out some possibilities. But Meyers could tell after his chest X-ray that the Iowa State football team doctor was concerned, and Meyers knew right then something was wrong.

Eventually a CT scan revealed Meyers did indeed have Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He didn’t even know what lymphoma was, and had to be told it was cancer of the lymph nodes.

To Meyers it was such a stunning diagnosis because he figured a swollen neck did not mean you had cancer. In his mind, if you had cancer you were sick or ill.


Once diagnosed, Meyers started a chemotherapy treatment every other week that lasted nearly six months. Although limited to a degree by the chemo treatments, it did not stop Meyers from continuing to work out with his teammates during spring and summer workouts.

He never missed a workout and continued to get ready for the 2015 season. Upon completion of his chemotherapy treatments, dozens of Meyers’ teammates and coaches showed up at the hospital to help him celebrate.

The second phase of his treatment protocol has been more difficult for Meyers. He returned home to Texas for radiation treatments and also had to undergo a stem cell transplant. It was the same treatment protocol former Oklahoma offensive lineman Austin Woods endured three years ago. Woods was also a finalist for the Rare Disease Champion Award.

Woods later returned to the Sooners team and played his final year. Meyers knows about Woods’ story and is hoping to take the same path and return to Ames later this year to start training to get back on the field for the 2016 season.

His battle has been a galvanizing force for the Iowa State team, and on a rare trip back to Ames during radiation treatments the team presented the game ball to Meyers after the victory over Northern Illinois.


“Seeing what he’s gone through, it’s just such an inspiration. It reminds you to stay humble and that you could always have it worse.” – Cyclones WR Allen Lazard

“You talk about admiration. You talk about respect. He’s one of our leaders anyway, and one of our hardest working guys on the team. And to do it on top of chemotherapy treatments … that just takes him up to a whole other level in the eyes of his teammates. It doesn’t leave them much room for excuses as they go about their daily business.” – Former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads

“My neck was swollen and it felt like someone had their hand on my throat. I didn’t think I needed to go to the doctor. I mean, how do you fix a swollen neck? The trainers suggested I should go to the doctor and they took a chest X-ray. I knew something wasn’t right when they came back with the results. I then went to the emergency room and got a CT scan. That’s when they told me it was lymphoma. I was stunned. I said, ‘Could it be anything else?’” – Mitchell Meyers




2016 Rare Disease Finalist: Kaleb Germinaro, Penn

Each of the six finalists for the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 18.


University: University of Pennsylvania

Vitals: 5-10, 195-pound junior former wide receiver

Quick Hits: Football was always very important to the native of Arizona. But Germinaro chose to come more than halfway across the country to attend college because no matter what happened with football he would always have a Penn education.

Little did he know that thought process would turn out to be the best decision of his young life. … A former two-time All-State honorable mention selection, Germinaro did not play for the Quakers his first two seasons but was working hard during the offseason to get ready for the 2015 season.

The date December 9, 2014 is ingrained into the memory of Germinaro. That was the date of an episode that led to his diagnosis with the rare disease of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.


Football was all Germinaro ever knew. After not playing his first two years, moving up the depth chart through hard work was Germinaro’s goal for the offseason prior to spring practice. During a study break from finals, Germinaro and a few of his teammates went to the indoor facility on campus to get in some work.

As the wide receiver played pitch-and-catch the right side of his body started to feel “funky”. But he kept running routes and working when suddenly he could not. His whole face went numb. Thinking he was just cold, Germinaro didn’t think anything serious was going on. When his arm went totally numb and he couldn’t lift it he started to become concerned.

The rest of his teammates went to lift, but Germinaro went to the training room and started looking up stroke symptoms on his phone. The Penn trainer took a look at him and immediately called for an ambulance and he was taken to the ER at the UPenn Hospital on campus.


Germinaro’s episode was initially diagnosed as a stroke. But after a series of MRI’s CAT Scan’s, spinal taps and blood work during his hospital stay, Germinaro was eventually diagnosed with MS.

Initially Germinaro was cleared to start spring practice but contact was out of the question. For a kid who worked his whole life to play college football, the realization that his football playing days, as he knew them, were over was a tough pill to swallow for Germinaro and his family.

Germinaro talked with new Quakers head coach Ray Priore, a long-time assistant at Penn before being elevated to the top job. As an assistant Priore had recruited Germinaro and during that process the coach told him he was choosing the best Plan B because you will get a Penn education.

Because of his MS, Priore told Germinaro he would prefer him to not try and play but instead asked him to become a student-coach on staff. Germinaro did a little bit of everything to stay involved with the team but his main responsibility was assisting the offensive coordinator and working with the freshmen wideouts.

The fact he wasn’t wearing a uniform didn’t matter. Germinaro felt he was contributing and part of a magical 2015 Penn season that saw the Quakers beat Villanova and rise from a 1-3 start to share the Ivy League title.


“I’m one of the types of people who need a strong support system, and I’m not afraid to admit that. I enjoy the family atmosphere of a football team, and even when I couldn’t play my teammates made me feel like I belonged. I don’t like when people feel sorry for me. Having this disease is not an excuse. I want to educate people on this disease and bring awareness to MS. Through this I’ve realized everything happens for a reason and it happened to me because I’m equipped to deal with it.” – Kaleb Germinaro

“It has been uplifting for our team to see somebody who was on our team who is unable to play now but is still out there doing everything he can to help make this team better.” – Alek Torgerson, Penn Quarterback

Beyond The Trophy: Andrew Zeller, University of Maryland

Maryland v Virginia

Name: Andrew Zeller

College: University of Maryland

Height, weight, class, position: 6-5, 315 pounds, senior, OG

High School: Red Lion HS, Red Lion, Pa.

About Andrew Zeller: A steady presence on the Terrapins offensive line since he appeared in 13 games as a redshirt sophomore in 2013 including starting the final three at right guard. Zeller started all 13 games at right guard last season. The President of the Maryland Chapter of Uplifting Athletes has started all seven games in 2015 and is a leader both on and off the field. Zeller was an Academic All-Big Ten selection last year and prior to the 2014 season he interned with the U.S. Marshalls Service.

As a player, what is your favorite part of the game day experience at your home stadium?

ZELLER: My Favorite game day experience is running out of the tunnel and seeing all the fans. Whether it’s our home fans cheering us on or the other team’s fans booing you there are not enough words to describe that feeling.

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes, and what, if anything, has this experience done for you?

ZELLER: I have always been involved with the community and when I came to Maryland I saw some of the great things that our former presidents had done and that’s when I knew I would be a perfect fit to help out with our chapter. Uplifting Athletes has just proven to me time and time again that the leverage you have as an athlete and the star of you community can be used in many ways that can benefit the community tremendously, and that is something I will never forget.

What is your most memorable experience as a college football player?

ZELLER: As a student-athlete at The University of Maryland there are many experiences that I will never forget. If I were to choose one it would be my first game as a part of the team. We played our opening game under the lights on Labor Day against Miami in 2011. We unveiled our new Maryland Pride uniforms and came away with a huge win.

What is the toughest team you’ve faced or regularly play, and what makes them so difficult?

ZELLER: Since I was able to play in two conferences as a Maryland player in the Big Ten and the ACC, two teams come to mind. Florida State and Ohio State. These two teams are very competitive teams, are well coached and have premier talent for players. It is what makes them so difficult. I played against both of these teams in years they won the National Championship.

What is your chosen major, and what if anything have you used from that major as a contribution to your Uplifting Athletes Chapter?

ZELLER: As a Criminal Justice undergraduate major and a masters in Supply Chain Management Major there are several overlapping characteristics I have been able to connect my education to my position in the Maryland Chapter of Uplifting Athletes. The biggest connection is Leadership. In both of these career fields I will be looked at to make decisions that will impact the lives of many people. Law enforcement is a career where you are looked to as a leader throughout the community. In a career within SCM decisions will have to be made that can impact the longevity and success of the company. Some people may look at these career paths as stressful but I see them as opportunities on a path to success and that is exactly how I approached my position with Uplifting Athletes. The tasks that I was responsible for were not to benefit me personally they were for the benefit for others, specifically people with the rare disease cystic fibrosis. All of the tasks that I performed were for the betterment of other people which encouraged me to be the best that I can be. This is a characteristic that I will continue to follow in whichever career path I choose.

Besides one of your teammates, name a college football player you enjoy watching?

ZELLER: I don’t really watch a lot of college football games on TV. I stick with watching the team I am preparing for in the upcoming week.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

ZELLER: Peyton Manning is one of the NFL players that I would consider a favorite. He is a great role model and a student of the game even though he is a seasoned veteran and I respect the fact that he still looks to improve his abilities every day.

What is your favorite road stadium to play in and why?

ZELLER: Wisconsin because they have a great fan base full of down to earth people which provided an electric atmosphere to play in.

 In your words, what are some of the things you are looking for in life after football?

ZELLER: In life after football I would like to continue giving back to the community. I believe that it is something special when you can lend a helping hand to those in need because you never know when those people may be able to help you. Along with this I would like to pursue a career in federal law enforcement or a position within the supply chain of a company.