At the 81st annual Maxwell Football Club Gala this past weekend in Atlantic City, we very proudly honored our 10th winner of the Rare Disease Champion Award, former UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin.
The Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award is presented annually to a leader in the world of college football who has realized his or her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.
Griffin is an NFL draft prospect fresh off a meteoric rise following a spectacular performance at the NFL Combine. He was joined at the Tropicana Casino & Resort by his mother, Tangie, twin brother Shaquill, who plays for the Seattle Seahawks, and six other family members to celebrate his achievement.
“It’s such an honor to be here with all these big-time names in football at an awards gala like this,” Griffin said. “Thanks to Uplifting Athletes for recognizing me as their champion. It’s a true blessing to be your champion.”
Griffin was part of the impressive Maxwell awards program that included: former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz, former Alabama defensive back Mikah Fitzpatrick and legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.
Griffin was presented his trophy by current USC long snapper and 2016 Rare Disease Champion winner Jake Olson.
“Coming back to present Shaquem his Rare Disease Champion Award was special to me as a former winner. The voice Uplifting Athletes has in college football is important,” Olson said. “This award recognizes those who have lived or were born into the world of suffering, but changed that over into the world of overcoming.”
Born with amniotic band syndrome, a rare disorder that led to the removal of his left hand when he was 4-years old, Griffin never let his rare disorder stand in the way of pursuing his dreams on and off the football field.
His combination of speed, power and athleticism completely overshadowed the absence of a left hand. In 2016, his first season as a full-time starter, Griffin soared well beyond expectations and earned the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Defensive Player of the Year honor. He backed it up with a stellar 2017 as part of the Knights’ run to a conference championship and undefeated season that included a bowl victory over Auburn.
“I never went into a practice or a game thinking about me having one hand. I never thought about how hard it must be to play that way,” Griffin said. “I just see the ball and go after it and make plays like anybody else. Yes I might look a little different, but I’ve played a game with a broken right hand and made 14 tackles so I can play with no hands if I have to.”