When NC State tight end Thomas Ruocchio headed to Philadelphia for his first Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference in 2017, he was anticipating a weekend of business and logistics meetings.
Four years later, the outgoing NC State Chapter President appreciates the weekend of connecting with other college football student-athletes bound together by the rare disease cause.
The 2020 conference, held in late January, was Ruocchio’s fourth as a chapter leader and gives him the unique distinction of attending the single most Leadership Development Conferences by a student-athlete.
“I remember the first time I came, I thought this was going to be all about business and logistics,” Ruocchio said. “I’ve learned over my coming four times there is a logistical aspect to this because there has to be. But even more than just the nuts and bolts of running a chapter, it’s about becoming a leader and getting some valuable life skills for everyone involved.”
The annual Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference provides an opportunity for college football student-athlete leaders from different schools to develop relationships that stretch beyond the field, absorb enhanced mission and vision knowledge based on Uplifting Athletes’ four programs and plot a chapter strategy for the upcoming year.
Ruocchio is drawn to the relationships established at the conference and the ability to have 30-40 guys going through the same experiences on different campuses around the country sharing those unique aspects of their journey.
“I was telling my mom about this conference before this year, about what a unique opportunity this is,” Ruocchio said. “The only way to share what you are going through as a college football player is with a teammate. And he’s going through the exact same experience you are.
“Here in Atlanta this year, you get to hear about 30-something unique individual experiences from guys at 20 different football programs. I really enjoy being able to hear everybody’s unique story. It’s a chance to come together to support a common cause and to each share our unique individual stories. You can’t get that anywhere else.”
This year because the conference had an odd number of student-athletes, as the veteran of the group, Ruocchio was offered his own room. But part of the charm of this conference, in his opinion, is being paired up with a roommate from a different school each year.
“I could have probably come to one or two of these and been able to run our chapter at NC State. It’s run so well and we are given all the right tools to be successful at this conference,” he said. “Coming back for the whole experience and meeting people has kept me coming back. I’m sad it’s my last one as a player and chapter leader.”
A lot has changed at Uplifting Athletes during Ruocchio’s tenure as a chapter leader at NC State. His four years of experience has helped, but overall he sees the leadership conference as a strong foundation to have a successful year as a chapter. And recent additions, such as the player panel and an Uplifting Experience, provides an all-around better foundation for young chapter leaders.
“My favorite part has always been the player panel. I always find the questions are so real-life and you don’t run into too many people on campus who can provide you those real-life answers to some of those questions we have about life after football,” Ruocchio said. “I’m on the cusp of being that guy who will start a life after football with the clock ticking, it’s been so valuable to hear from others.”
From a fundraising perspective, the four programs and the Young Investigator Draft have also helped everybody from teammates, to compliance, to each individual donor understand the value of each dollar raised and how it’s being put to good use.
“It’s helped from my perspective as a chapter leader so much to see exactly how the organization is using some of the funds we raise at the chapter level. It’s also given me a much more personal connection to the cause,” Ruocchio said. “Instead of just focusing on raising cash, we are able to connect to the cause. It’s a much clearer understanding of what we are doing together. Early on as a chapter leader I couldn’t really see the entire picture and I don’t know if that was just me being a young chapter leader or what? But I know and understand the cause and our part much clearer today.”
On behalf of the Rare Disease Community we serve, Uplifting Athletes would like to thank Thomas for his dedicated commitment and service to the rare disease cause during his time as a college football student-athlete at NC State.