2021 Reps For Rare Diseases campaign sets records, displays the power of sports

Empowering NFL prospects to use their Combine or Pro Day performance as a platform to give back and inspire the Rare Disease Community is what drives Uplifting Athletes Reps For Rare Diseases.

2021 marks the seventh consecutive year these athletes have used their platform to raise funds for Uplifting Athletes and introduce their fans, friends and family to the rare disease cause.

With the NFL bypassing its annual Combine and relying solely on individual university Pro Days in order to evaluate prospects, there was an air of uncertainty how this campaign would unfold when it kicked off March 6th.

“Uplifting Athletes is a great organization and has strong ties to Syracuse University,” said 2021 Reps For Rare Diseases participant Nolan Cooney, a former rare disease patient who served as a leader for the Syracuse Chapter. “I’m doing Reps For Rare Diseases to not just raise funds, but to use my platform to bring attention to the Rare Disease Community.”

Reps For Rare Diseases enables athletes to give back at a pivotal point in their quest to play at the highest level as they put their skills on display for NFL teams.

As we hoped, people were engaged and moved by the power of sports. Fans shared rare disease stories, donors were inspired by the heart of the players using their platform to serve a greater good and the Rare Disease Community was exposed to an audience of nearly 14 million during the month-long campaign.

“This opportunity was brought to me by marketing guys as something I could consider doing. So I looked into Uplifting Athletes, and for me it was a no brainer,” said former Texas Tech defensive end Eli Howard. “There’s 1 in 10 Americans living with a rare disease and this is a great opportunity to use my platform to help those with the rare diseases. Pro Day is all about yourself to be honest, but this is a way to make it about others. I love that. For me, this is such a blessing to be able to do this.”

This year, 54 NFL prospects from a record 31 schools participated in Reps For Rare Diseases. Each used their social media to promote their participation in the campaign and nearly half of them received additional media coverage including television, online media, podcasts and newspapers to share the message about the rare disease cause.

Fans showed their appreciation by leaving personal messages of thanks, motivation and inspiration on each players’ individual campaign page. Some of the examples include: 

  • I appreciate your action for this program. A rare disease in my family makes for challenging times and treatment. Thank you; 
  • You have done wonderful and I am so proud of you. The charity you have chosen shows that you are a man of good character; 
  • Thank you for having the heart of a champion, both on the field and for those in need within this community.

The Rare Disease Community also made sure its voice was heard: 

  • There will never be the right words to thank you for doing this for the rare disease community. So let this donation say what I can’t; 
  • As a father to a son who has an ultra rare genetic disease, Caleb’s work to bring awareness to our community means the world to me.

Some even left heartfelt notes in memory of those who lost their battles with a rare disease: 

  • So proud of you Will…what a great charity. Would like to honor my mother- who passed from ALS; 
  • Keep up the great work. In Loving Memory of our Beautiful One, Sophia Grace Webster, sunrise 3-20-20, sunset 4-2-20.

The 2021 campaign set a record with more than $111,500 raised to support Uplifting Athletes and its commitment to create Uplifting Leaders, engage in Uplifting Experiences, fund Rare Disease Research, and expand Rare Disease Awareness.

A record 31 of the participants raised at least $1,000, more than doubling the previous high of 14.

“I’m really excited that I (had) the opportunity to help people who have rare diseases,” said former Oregon defensive back Brady Breeze, who finished Reps For Rare Diseases as the No. 1 overall fundraiser with $6,065. “There’s a lot of people who have reached out to me and thanked me for doing it. They’re rare diseases for a reason. People don’t know they exist until they get a note from the doctor. I really want to help those people out that have diseases that aren’t recognized as much. I just want to help in any way I can.”

Horizon Therapeutics plc and Uplifting Athletes worked together for the second year in a row as Reps For Rare Diseases teammates. Horizon matched all donations up to $35,000 through its #RAREis program, which is dedicated to providing individuals living with a rare disease and families access to resources that connect, inform and educate as they navigate their daily lives.

“The guys that run (the Uplifting Athletes Chapter) for us at Northwestern are a couple of special dudes and put a lot of time and effort into this,” former Wildcats quarterback Peyton Ramsey said. “We all decided we needed to do our part and do this for a very good cause.. I’m grateful to all the fans who donated to support us.”

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