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.
INSIDE THE STORY
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.
THE RARE 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.
WHAT THEY SAID
“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