Each of the six finalists for the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2015 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 1.
University: Baylor University
Vitals: 6-2, 200-pound senior wide receiver
Quick Hits: Started his high school football career in State College, Pa. in the shadow of Penn State where his father, Brian, was an assistant coach. But transferred to Midway HS in Waco after his dad joined the Baylor staff. … All-Big 12 honoree as a receiver and kick returner who finished his career with more than 1,600 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. … Graduated in May 2014 with a degree in public relations and did an internship with the Baylor Athletic Communications office.
For Levi Norwood, the decision was easy. When he met a student at his former high school in a wheelchair battling cerebral palsy, the Baylor wide receiver made sure the meeting wasn’t a one-trick pony. Already a busy student-athlete, taking time to form a genuine relationship with Jacoby Burks and his family eventually gave Norwood reason to join a bigger movement.
INSIDE THE STORY
Back for a visit at his high school alma mater, Midway in Waco, Norwood was at a football game the first time he met Burks and his family.
Once would have been enough. But Norwood figured why not welcome a friend from his high school into his current family at Baylor. So for three years, whenever it worked for all parties involved, Norwood and his teammates welcomed the Burks family to Bears’ practices and games.
It was a former friend from his days in State College that helped Norwood take this relationship to the next level.
Sam Rodgers at Syracuse had co-founded the Syracuse Chapter, and told Norwood he should do the same at Baylor because the team already had a rare disease cause.
THE RARE JOURNEY
Jacoby Burks and his family have dealt with cerebral palsy since birth. This rare disease limits movement and is permanent. There are certainly more complications, but Burks is restricted to a wheelchair.
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, so research dollars in the quest to find a cure are vital. And that’s what Norwood and his relationship with Burks is doing at Baylor.
The Bears held their inaugural Lift For Life and in-season Touchdown Pledge Drive in 2014, and all the proceeds from those events went to cerebral palsy research.
What matters more is Jacoby and his parents were able to attend each event – the Lift For Life in the summer and TD Pledge Drive against Kansas – in person to be part of the celebration.
“As the year have passed, Levi made sure Jacoby came to the games and practices on the field. Jacoby loves Levi. Every time I tell him we’re going to see him and the rest of the team, he gets so excited. It’s amazing to see that. It gives me chills knowing Levi and the Bears care so much about kids who suffer from cerebral palsy.” – Jacoby Burke’s mom Latricia
“It’s a blessing knowing that Jacoby and his family are supporting us and going to our games, and in return, we want to do the same for them. We definitely play a lot harder knowing that. We’re blessed to have this platform. It would be wrong not to give back.” – Levi Norwood