Two months has felt like a lifetime in some respects for former Penn State and current Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still.
Since he was told his 4-year-old daughter Leah has neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer, Still has asked a lot of questions where there are no answers.
But the massive 6-5, 310-pound second-year NFL player, who is an Uplifting Athletes letterman, has been publicly open and transparent about his journey inside the rare disease community.
“Two months ago I found out my daughter has neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer. Kids always look up to their parents, but in just a matter of a week that all reversed for me,” Still said. “I can honestly say I truly look up to my daughter now. Her courage, strength and high spirits through it all is nothing short of inspirational.”
One avenue Still chose to support his daughter, and help others in a similar situation, is to use his platform as an NFL player to shine a spotlight on pediatric cancer.
So during the 2014 season Still and the Cincinnati Bengals are running a Pldgit campaign called Help The Bengals Sack Pediatric Cancer.
For every sack the Bengals register in the upcoming NFL season, fans can donate an amount of their choosing with the proceeds going to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“I’m dedicating my season to her and inspiring others like she has inspired me,” Still said. “Please join our team by pledging to donate for every sack our defense has this season.”
As a member of the Penn State football team, Still participated in the Uplifting Athletes PSU Chapter Lift For Life to support kidney cancer and the larger rare disease community.
Uplifting Athletes has been able to use our experiences and relationships in the rare disease community to help one of our own.
Together … We Are … Stronger!
Coming full circle to the exact spot where we started nearly 12 hours earlier on the steps of the state Capitol Building, our 2013 Uplifting Athletes GORUCK Challenge team of 29 members knew the moment was upon us.
When our GORUCK Cadre, a military Special Operations veteran named Silver, said “class 723 remove your rucksacks and put them on the ground you are finished,” I hesitated for a second.
I knew the rule – one of five we had to follow the entire 12 hours – your rucksack may not ever touch the ground.
When Silver said put them down, I didn’t know whether to cry, cuss or jump up and down with joy. So I just stood there for a second and soaked in what we had just accomplished.
After nearly 12 hours of physically exhausting and mentally punishing missions, our entire 29-person team was officially GORUCK Tough.
These missions saw us carry more than a ton of weight nearly 15 miles in and around Harrisburg. We lugged concrete parking dividers, rocks and a ridiculously heavy telephone pole.
We made a visit to a nasty pond in Wildwood Park, but that dirty water never felt so good. Our team also took a dip in the Susquehanna River on City Island then played in the sand.
The finisher was bear crawling and sprinting across the Walnut St. Bridge from City Island before carrying eight of our female teammates through the city back to the State Capitol.
Somehow, summing this grueling adventure up in three paragraphs makes it sound pretty simple.
Trust me, it wasn’t.
But part of the magic of what GORUCK has forged through these challenges is the concept of teamwork.
We started this journey several months ago as 29 individuals. We formed bonds and friendships along the way in training. And we solidified those ties that bind at another level by coming together as one team over the course of 12 hours.
Military Special Operations is a brotherhood that GORUCK gives civilians an opportunity to taste for one day. And our 2013 team was drinking the Kool-Aid.
Our private Facebook page was filled with hundreds of post-event comments, jokes and memories. Each of us in GORUCK Class 723 now looks at those other 28 members of the team as our brothers and sisters.
During this grueling and demanding 12-hour stretch we formed a unique bond that’s hard to replicate in the civilian world. Each mission started and completed together.
Early on in our 2013 challenge my body threw me a nasty curve. For some reason my blood sugar, I think, bottomed out. I’m not a diabetic, but I do have low blood sugar.
And mine went south on me after two hours. I was dizzy, light headed, weak, pale, suffered from the cold sweats and was in no condition to help carry those heavy cement parking dividers.
My teammates recognized I wasn’t doing well. Several offered to hump my nearly 40-pound ruck for stretches and had me just carry the flag and walk. I ate peanut M&M’s and drank water for an hour.
Cadre Silver kept shining his light in my eyes and asked me if I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to quit, but I knew if the worm didn’t turn soon I might not have any choice.
Eventually my body cooperated, and by the time we reached the Farm Show Complex I was feeling strong enough to join the cement parking divider lifting party.
I will forever be grateful to my teammates for picking me up and allowing my body to recover and finish this challenge.
We started with 29 and finished with 29. We raised more than $22,000 for rare disease research through Uplifting Athletes.
And we literally, for 12 hours lived the motto “Together … We Are … Stronger.
The patch Cadre Silver gave each of us is stitched with the words “GORUCK Tough.” You have to live it for those 12 hours to fully understand it.
The bond we formed as a team has stayed strong over the course of a year. We still have plenty of lively Facebook conversations about almost anything. Nearly a dozen members of our team went out for a night together at the Uplifting Athletes Gridiron Gala earlier this year.
And as we embark on putting together two teams in 2014, plenty of 2013 team members have already answered the bell again in the fight against rare diseases.
Spots for the 2014 GORUCK Challenge and GORUCK Light events are open and available for registration. It was a rugged 12 hours finishing a Challenge event, but that wasn’t the hardest part. Having the courage to say yes and sign up takes courage. The training and team building takes care of the rest.
You never know what will happen when you get nearly a dozen college football players together for a weekend.
Throw spaghetti, marshmallows and a Twitter scavenger hunt into the equation and the foundation for lasting relationships all in the name of helping others was laid.
The fifth Uplifting Athletes Leadership Retreat took place May 16-18 at Harrisburg University.
— Uplifting Athletes (@UpliftingAth) May 17, 2014
Current college football student athletes who chose to become leaders of their individual chapters from Penn State, Arizona, Ohio State, South Carolina, Illinois, Florida State, Nebraska and Clemson traveled to Pennsylvania’s capitol city for a weekend of networking and workshops.
“I’ve always been apt to help others and give back. When I heard about Uplifting Athletes, I just thought it would be a great thing to be a part of,” South Carolina redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Washington said. “These rare diseases are ones that not a lot of people know about. So we want to bring awareness to our rare disease, raise some research dollars, and spread the word all around the country about rare diseases.”
Most of these new chapter leaders are still learning the ropes about running a chapter of Uplifting Athletes. So the staff put the players through their paces in the areas of project management, branding and social media, telling your story and working with the media, event planning and utilizing resources at each individual university.
“I have to credit my mother for this. She put a good head on my shoulders. This is a great way to help someone we have a personal relationship with and has done so much for us,” Arizona redshirt senior defensive back Brendan Murphy said. “People with rare diseases don’t always have the means to help themselves. I want to be that guy to help give them a hand.”
In addition to the time spent in the classroom, the players had plenty of time to discover a new city, work in small groups and the Twitter scavenger hunt using the hashtag #UA Leadership produced some entertaining results.
The bottom line was this group of unique college football players made a personal choice to become an off-the-field leader on their team in order to lend their time and talents to a movement that is all about college football, but has nothing to do with college football.
“This is my senior season and I feel like I haven’t done enough to give back yet. I’d really like to be able to make a difference,” Ohio State defensive lineman Mike Bennett said. “I feel like I’ve built up my name enough that it can carry some weight. I think it would be a great thing to get our team behind, bring us closer and help someone out in the process.”
“If football is not my calling, I feel this is a great thing where you get to give back,” Clemson long snapper Jim Brown said. “And I love giving back. You get to help people and at the same time learn some unbelievable lessons about life.”
In addition to Brown, Bennett and Washington, Florida State tight end Kevin Haplea, Arizona defensive back Anthony Lopez, Penn State linebacker Ben Kline, South Carolina fullback Connor McLaurin, Nebraska linebacker Chris Weber and Illinois offensive lineman Joe Spencer participated in the 2014 Uplifting Athletes Leadership Retreat.
With 25 chapters run by current college football student-athletes nationwide, Uplifting Athletes had plenty of players from its network of chapters drafted at the recently completed NFL Draft.
Clowney, who went to the Houston Texans, was part of the inaugural South Carolina Chapter Lift For Life last summer.
Notre Dame led the way eight players drafted, followed by Florida State with seven.
Ohio State came in third among the Uplifting Athletes chapter network with six players drafted while Wisconsin and Clemson tied at fourth each with five players drafted. Nebraska, Penn State and Arizona all had three players drafted.
Joining Clowney as first-round picks from our network of schools were: Sammy Watkins of Clemson, Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State, Notre Dame’s Zack Martin and Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby from Ohio State.
Another 54 players from the Uplifting Athletes Chapter network were signed over the weekend by NFL teams as undrafted free agents. For a full list of chapter members drafted and signed to NFL teams, click here.
Best of luck to all 105 players from the Uplifting Athletes chapter network in the next step of their careers. Together … We Are … Stronger!
As the Penn State Chapter continues its push to $1 million dollars raised for kidney cancer research, new president Ben Kline and the rest of his committed leadership team stays busy.
Earlier this year, despite the snow in State College, the Nittany Lions’ chapter ran a very successful Kids Combine. The idea was to treat it like a Penn State recruiting camp to help young kids learn some finer details of the game.
The Blue-White game this year was memorable. Each and every jersey featured an Uplifting Athletes patch on the right shoulder as a show of support for the rare disease community.
Following the game the jerseys were auctioned off on the Penn State web site in order to raise more research dollars. Also that day AAA South Penn made tweets on Twitter worth rare disease research dollars.
For each tweet with the hashtag #AAABlueWhite AAA South Penn donated $5 to the Penn State Chapter.
The summer will be continue to be a busy time for the Nittany Lions’ chapter as they prepare for their signature Lift For Life in July.
Also, next month is the ninth Mike Shimko Golf Tournament to benefit the Penn State Chapter in memory of Mike Shimko, who lost his battle with kidney cancer.
“My mother and I have always received tremendous assistance and support from the Penn State chapter president and from other members of the team,” Mike Shimko Jr. said.
To find out more details about the Mike Shimko Golf Tournament, click here.
I hope you had a chance to enjoy the Easter holiday with family and friends. Today, the sun is shining in Hamilton as we prepare to strap up for our final week of spring practice.
After four weeks of spring ball we are starting to look like a championship team. Our offense was completely installed by our fifth practice, and since then we have been perfecting our respective crafts. Lots of younger players do not have much experience with our playbook.
The mental strain of learning an entire offense in just a few days is overwhelming and frustrating for many kids. Understandably, there were a few mental mistakes, but for the most part the coaches have been very impressed with how quickly the young guys have grasped our system. Junior wide receiver PJ Franciotti has emerged to be freshman quarterback Jake Melville’s favorite target.
The switch to a 3-4 defense has been fun to watch. So far, I have been most impressed by our defensive line. Junior nose guard Anto Almasian leads the merciless crew made up of sophomore Victor Steffen, and freshmen Nate Obinwa, Alex Campbell and Brett Field.
Freshman outside linebacker Chuck Cairnie stands at 6’5″ and has proved to be an effective pass rusher. Junior safety and co-captain Mike Armiento has been playing like an All-American.
We are four days away from our first annual spring game. Not only is this an exciting moment for Colgate football, it is also our spring fundraiser for Uplifting Athletes.
The game will feature a live concert sponsored by Broad Street Records, a catered barbecue, and popular tailgate events. Ependymoma survivor Colin Hayward and his brother Aidan will be our captains for the game. Music starts at 2 p.m. Saturday and the game kicks off at 3 p.m. We are very excited for this event and we encourage you to attend! It should be a fun time for a great cause.
If you can’t make it this weekend and would like to donate to our cause, please visit my player page http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=306944
Thank you very much for your generosity and consideration.
Together we are stronger.
I will be in touch after the spring game. Until then, GATA!!
Jimmy DeCicco ’15
Colgate University Football
President Uplifting Athletes