The Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award, part of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), is given annually to a leader in college football who has realized his or her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the Rare Disease Community.
We afforded each finalist for the 11th Rare Disease Champion Award the opportunity to be featured in our Beyond The Finalist series.
Name: Sam Heckel
University: Syracuse University
Position: Offensive Line
What about your journey do you always make sure to share when telling your story?
Heckel: When sharing my journey I had only recently begun to share that I am a survivor of rare disease. When I was 9 I had an episode where my platelets dropped to about 4(normal amount is 200). On top of my immune system being in shambles my kidneys began to fail and that’s when I was granted a wish from the Make a Wish foundation. At the time I didn’t know what being a kid in that foundation meant but now I understand the severity of my condition. I really believe that my survival from that was a miracle.
Can you tell us your ‘welcome to college football (either as a player or coach) moment’?
Heckel: I would say my “welcome to college football moment” was our very first redshirt workout. In short, I had never been tested so hard, physically and mentally, before.
What is the one piece of advice or encouragement that’s stuck with you over time? Who gave it to you and what is it?
Heckel: I would say the biggest piece of encouragement came from my sister. She had written a speech on what I had overcame and how important it was for me to realize that, in theory, I shouldn’t be able to play contact sports but there is a reason for me to be in the position I am now. Moreover, despite the odds of me becoming a collegiate athlete I should never take that for granted.
What is your favorite movie and why?
Heckel: Favorite movie has to be Elf. I still find it hilarious even though I know most of the words.
If you could have lunch with any one person (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?
Heckel: I would probably say my Nana who passed away a few years ago. We’d always go to Culver’s or some sort of diner. I just miss that tradition.
Your favorite aspect of being a part of college football?
Heckel: The challenge. There is so much adversity that a student-athlete faces that I think it will make adult life easier.
Last few songs you downloaded?
Heckel: 2009- Mac Miller; Dunno- Mac Miller and Uproar- Lil Wayne.
What would winning the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award mean to you?
Heckel: It would be an honor to win this award. While all the candidates are deserving I have lived my entire life with this community. I know that winning this will create immense awareness for, not only TTP(my disease) research, but all rare diseases. I owe it to this community to represent someone who has lived with a rare disease my entire life and can still be successful. Living up with a rare disease can make a patient feel hopeless, I can attend to that. I just want to provide hope to those who deserve better treatment and a better life. With all that I have overcome I want to give back to the community that helped me survive what seemed to be inevitable death and show others that there is hope and that their rare disease can not contain what they can do with their lives.