Annual Leadership Development Conference arms student-athlete chapter leaders with tools for success

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As Uplifting Athletes continues to evolve and expand its footprint as a champion of the rare disease community, our nationwide chapter network led by current college football student-athletes continues to be the rock of our foundation.

Educating and training these leaders on the mission and vision of Uplifting Athletes is critical to being able to use the power of sport to inspire the rare disease community with hope. We want to enable these student-athletes to have the biggest impact they can.

This past weekend in Philadelphia, 23 chapter leaders from 14 universities came together for Leadership Development Conference 2017.

Led by the Uplifting Athletes staff, the conference was three days of education, training and relationship building all centered around making a greater impact on the rare disease community.

“I wasn’t aware of how much Uplifting Athletes has done and is doing. The platform we have is such an opportunity,” said Christian Groomes, a chapter leader from Clemson. “It was cool to see all the opportunities we have to raise money and support rare diseases. I think we are going to be a hit at Clemson with some of the ideas we have now.”

Chapter leaders from Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Syracuse, Illinois, Florida State, Maryland, Stony Brook, Penn and Saint Francis committed a weekend of their short offseason to attend the conference.

Included in the workshop sessions on Saturday and Sunday were an overview of Uplifting Athletes, a team building exercise, Lift For Life and Touchdown Pledge Drive event planning, transferable life skills development, communication and social media training, and an introduction to rare disease patient engagement through Uplifting Experiences.

There was also a breakout session hosted by Kristen Angell from the National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD).

In between work sessions, the student-athletes were able to experience some of the unique sights of Philadelphia. There was a cheesesteak lunch in Logan Park followed by a trip to the Art Museum and the “Rocky Steps” for team pictures. Lunch on Sunday was outside the famous City Hall, and the players were free Saturday evening to explore the city and spend some off time together.

“It was a great experience overall. I learned a lot and it was great to get to know the guys from other schools,” Penn State Chapter leader Jason Cabinda said. “There was a lot I can take back to the rest of the guys and share that will help us going forward.”


Uplifting Athletes set to host 24 student-athlete chapter leaders for 2017 Leadership Development Conference

LDC 17 GRAPHICFor our eighth consecutive year, we will gather college football student-athletes that are current or future chapter leaders together for three days of education and training during the Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference.

This year 24 current football players from 13 universities across the country will travel to Philadelphia on Friday, May 19 to kick off a busy weekend of engaging work sessions, networking and relationship building.

Chapter leaders from Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Syracuse, Illinois, Florida State, Maryland, Stony Brook, Penn and Saint Francis will start the 2017 conference with a team meal Friday night prior to a full Saturday agenda.

The weekend agenda is driven by the Uplifting Athletes staff, but will also feature a breakout session focused on the rare disease community hosted by Kristen Angell from the National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD).

Included in the workshop sessions on Saturday and Sunday are an overview of Uplifting Athletes, a team building exercise, Lift For Life and Touchdown Pledge Drive event planning, transferable life skills development, communication and social media training, and an introduction to rare disease patient engagement through Uplifting Experiences.

We are very excited to bring this group together to learn from each other, to strategize together and to foster the sense of teamwork that inspires us all.


Clemson Tigers highlight Uplifting Athletes Chapter bowl season by winning National Championship

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Clemson became the second university with an Uplifting Athletes Chapter to win the college football National Championship with its dramatic victory over defending champion Alabama.

Florida State won the final BCS National Championship in 2014 to cap a perfect 14-0 season.

Two of the last four champions of college football, Clemson and Florida State, are part of Uplifting Athletes student-athlete chapter network.

The Clemson Chapter held its inaugural Lift For Life event this past summer and also held a Touchdown Pledge Drive for the Syracuse game this season in support of the rare disease community.

Congratulations to the Tigers on winning their first National Championship since 1981 and thanks to Clemson Chapter President and punter Andy Teasdall for all his hard work in making 2016 a success on and off the field.

Big Ten champion Penn State and Pac-12 winner Washington each finished its respective seasons with losses, but that won’t diminish the huge strides forward each program made nationally.

The Huskies fell to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal and the Nittany Lions were part of a thrilling and record setting Rose Bowl game won by USC.

Clemson climbed the highest mountain in college football by winning it all, but five other programs with an Uplifting Athletes Chapter ended the 2016 campaign on a high note with a victory in their respective bowl game.

Florida State edged Michigan in the Orange Bowl, Northwestern held off Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl, Georgia Tech nearly doubled up Kentucky in the Taxslayer Bowl, NC State put up 42 points on Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl and Baylor snapped its losing streak by rolling Boise State in the Cactus Bowl.

Maryland, Nebraska and South Carolina were also part of the 2016 bowl slate but came up just short.

Taking a look back at 2016 for Uplifting Athletes

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In a year of change on many fronts for Uplifting Athletes, taking time to reflect is time well spent.

Our purpose as a national nonprofit remains unaffected. We serve the 30 million Americans that comprise the rare disease community. But our scope and mission underwent a natural evolution to kick off the year.

We expanded our scope of support to the larger rare disease community as a whole and settled on five categories of rare disease groups, rare cancers, rare blood disorders, rare genetic disorders, rare autoimmune disorders and rare muscular disorders.

Our mission has remained the same since 2007, but we overhauled the words to more adequately reflect where we want to go in the future. Uplifting Athletes is a national nonprofit organization that inspires the rare disease community with hope through the power of sport.

In February we crowned our eighth Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion. And we celebrated USC long snapper Jake Olson and his amazing rare disease story at the annual Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala in March.

Our annual Gridiron Gala was also in March, and for the first time we put the focus of our annual fundraising event squarely on rare disease patients and their families. It was a celebration of battling, and in some cases overcoming, the challenges of a rare disease journey.

In May we welcomed a record 30-plus leaders in college football to Northwestern University for our annual Chapter Leadership Conference. The weekend painted a promising picture for the future of our nationwide network of student-athlete led chapters.

Over the course of the late spring and into the summer, 19 chapters ran a Lift For Life event. This is the signature fundraising and rare disease awareness event, but trust us when we say no two events are the same.

Penn used its annual Iron Quaker lifting competition to hold its Lift For Life, Notre Dame holds a bowling event to engage the community, at Arizona it’s a kids clinic and Nebraska holds an annual 5K/Fun Run as its signature event.

Clemson, Georgia Tech, Washington and Northern Arizona each held their inaugural Lift For Life events in 2016. And the charter chapter of Uplifting Athletes, Penn State, held its 14th annual Lift For Life.

The funds that are raised from these annual Lift For Life events supports rare disease research and patient focused programs. And this fall, Uplifting Athletes allotted research funds to support translational research being done at UPMC in Pittsburgh, Fox Chase in Philadelphia and Penn.

August was a month of more transition for the organization. Former Chapter Manager Becky Mayes left after nearly four years with Uplifting Athletes and Director of Marketing Mark Mihalik took a similar position with PledgeIt.

Those departures provided Uplifting Athletes the opportunity to hire Rob Long as the Director of Strategic Development and Chapter Liaison. Long is the inspiration behind Syracuse forming a chapter, a former rare disease patient who overcame his rare brain cancer and played college football.

In addition, John Trzeciak was looking for passion and purpose in his journey and as a long-time resident of State College and a Penn State alumnus and fan, he knew about Uplifting Athletes. Trzeciak is a full-time volunteer and mentor with a wealth of knowledge and skills that will help Uplifting Athletes maximize its resources in the future.

At the peak of their football season, 11 members of the Uplifting Athletes Chapter network donated their time and hard work to run Touchdown Pledge Drives.

In its third year of existence, Arizona, Clemson, Colgate, Florida State, Maryland, Penn State, Penn, Princeton, St. Francis, Stony Brook and Syracuse hosted Touchdown Pledge Drive games.

Penn, who shared the Ivy League title with Princeton, ran a campaign that included all of its Ivy games and included the offense, defense and kicking game. Colgate and Princeton each ran offense vs. defense drives. The remaining eight chapters ran a pledge drive based solely on touchdowns.

We are grateful for all the blessings of this past year that allowed us to serve the rare disease community. We are excited for 2017.

Together … We Are … Stronger!


Plenty of success on the field in 2016 for Uplifting Athletes Chapters including pair in College Football Playoff and duo sharing Ivy League crown

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The 2016 season was another strong year for Uplifting Athletes Chapter schools on the football field.

Two of the four teams in the College Football Playoff are aligned with Uplifting Athletes. Three programs won a Power 5 FBS Conference Championships, and a pair our FCS schools shared the Ivy League title.

Pac-12 champion Washington and ACC winner Clemson will compete in the College Football Playoff as the Nos. 4 and 2 seeds, respectively.

Penn State joined the Huskies and Tigers in claiming conference bragging rights when the Nittany Lions stormed back to edge Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

The Nittany Lions just missed out on the College Football Playoff, finishing No. 5 overall, but the consolation prize is a trip the Rose Bowl.

Congratulations to the Princeton Tigers and Penn Quakers on winning the Ivy League crown. This was the second consecutive year Penn shared the Ivy title. Princeton last won at least a share of the Ivy League championship was 2013.

Joining Washington, Clemson and Penn State in the college football bowl season are Baylor, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, NC State, Nebraska, Northwestern and South Carolina.

Thank you to all the Uplifting Athletes Chapters for making the rare disease community a priority in 2016.



Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas explodes for 459 total yards against Duke to earn Uplifting Athletes Player of the Week

justin-thomasGeorgia Tech needs one more victory to become bowl eligible after missing the postseason a year ago. The Yellow Jackets secured a huge victory this past Saturday for their fifth win of the season. And senior QB Justin Johnson seems determined to play in a bowl game his final season.

Thomas accounted for 459 total yards and four touchdowns against Duke to power Georgia Tech to a 38-35 victory to earn the Uplifting Athletes Player of the Week.

In his next-to-last home game, Thomas completed 10 of 14 passes for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 195 yards on 17 carries with a pair of scores including an 82-yard TD scamper in the first quarter.

His most important play, though, was probably his last one when Thomas broke free for a 50-yard run late in the game on a third-and-17 play with the Yellow Jackets clinging to a three-point lead.

Week 1: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame

Week 2: QB Jake Browning, Washington

Week 3: QB Tommy Armstrong Jr., Nebraska

Week 4: RB Ty Johnson, Maryland

Week 5: QB Trace McSorley, Penn State

Week 6: QB Eric Dungey, Syracuse

Week 7: QB Shane Thorson, Northwestern

Inaugural Georgia Tech Lift For Life a huge success in support of rare disease community

More than a year in the making, the Georgia Tech Chapter held its inaugural Lift For Life in support of the rare disease community last Friday morning.

Chapter President and founder, offensive lineman Trey Klock, knew it would be a tough road to get an Uplifting Athletes Chapter up and running at Georgia Tech.

But Klock stayed committed to using his platform as a college football student-athlete to making a difference for rare diseases. Eventually some of his teammates, members of the athletic support staff and the Georgia Tech coaching staff joined Klock and the pieces all fell into place.

“This has been a lot of people putting in a lot of hard work. Guys like my teammate Shaun Kagawa and our strength coach John Sisk. They did so much to make this happen,” Klock said. “It’s been a lot of work on my part, but to see it happen felt so great.

“It was such a good feeling seeing my teammates buy into what we’re doing. Not just showing up for the event, but actually interested in why. Guys really cared and that really meant a lot to me.”

The Georgia Tech Lift For Life started at 6 a.m., with each individual running an obstacle course, designed by Sisk, for time. The obstacle course featured tire flips, farmer’s carry and shopping cart push.

Each individual’s time was part of a team competition to give the players some incentive. And it worked.

“It was only like 90-100 seconds, but it was intense,” Klock said. “The guys were really into competing to see which team could post the best time.”

The inaugural Georgia Tech Lift For Life smashed its fundraising goal of $5,000 and raised more than $7,500 for Uplifting Athletes in support of the rare disease community.

You can still support the Georgia Tech Chapter by visiting their Lift For Life fundraising page.