Enduring neuroblastoma diagnosis with daughter Leah helped Devon Still find a purpose and passion for life after football

RARE DISEASE SPOTLIGHT GRAPHICThere are more than 7,000 rare diseases but we are one rare disease community. Regularly, Uplifting Athletes will put one rare disease center stage to give that disease and its community a chance to shine.

Rare Disease: Neuroblastoma

Brief Description: A childhood or pediatric form of cancer that occurs in the abdomen near the adrenal glands, but it can also occur in other parts of the body. It is often present at birth but may not be detected until later in infancy or childhood. The symptoms of a neuroblastoma may include a lump in the abdomen, pain, diarrhea, or generally feeling unwell. It affects one out of 100,000 children. The exact cause of this tumor is not yet known. Treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and stem cell transplant, and it can be cured when diagnosed at an early stage.

Rare Connection: Former Penn State All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still was battling through his own injury issues to keep his NFL career alive when his then 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with the rare disease neuroblastoma. Leah’s diagnosis made playing football irrelevant to Still. At that moment, he was prepared to walk away from the game to be with his daughter full-time, but realized keeping his health insurance was best for her. With the support of the Cincinnati Bengals, Still decided to use his platform as an NFL player to shine a spotlight on pediatric cancer. Devon used social media to document Leah’s battle with neuroblastoma, quickly raised more than $1 million for research through jersey sales, and the inspiring duo was awarded the Jimmy V Award at the 2015 ESPYs. As a member of the Penn State Chapter during his Nittany Lions career, Still reached out to Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Scott Shirley shortly after Leah’s diagnosis. Scott was a source of support and together they launched a Pledge It campaign to raise funds for research. Leah has been in remission for three years, and after stops in Houston and New York, Still retired from the NFL after the 2017 season. Leah is healthy today, but Devon is far from done using his platform to help others. Since retiring, he launched the Still Strong Foundation to help families with children fighting pediatric cancers and to share his story and hopefully motivate others to fight through their challenges. In Devon’s words he wants to “have an impact that goes well beyond the football field.”

Patient Groups: Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society.

Getting Social: Twitter: @CncfHope, @AmericanCancer. Facebook: CNCF Hope, American Cancer Society.

Learn More: There are two FDA approved treatments for neuroblastoma, Adreview and Unituxin, and more than 500 clinical trials. To learn more about clinical trials go here. Some of the most well-respected resources inside the rare disease community include National Institute of Health (NIH), National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) and Global Genes.



NFL teams welcome 29 players who gave back during Reps For Rare Diseases campaign

NFL DRAFT-RFRD 18 GRAPHICLess than 1 percent of high school football players actually go on to sign a professional NFL contract.

Those who climb to the top of the football ladder and take the final step from NFL prospect to being drafted or signed are in rare air.

Earlier this year, Uplifting Athletes had 38 of these rare air former college football student-athletes extended their platform as NFL prospects by giving back in support of the Rare Disease Community.

When the stakes were the highest, these NFL prospects made a choice to pledge their performance at either the NFL Combine or individual University Pro Day workouts to help raise awareness and funds in support of Uplifting Athletes’ mission.

Of the 38 NFL prospects who participated in our 2018 Reps For Rare Diseases campaign, 29 of them took that final step and now have the opportunity to continue their football careers in the NFL.

“Congratulations to each and every one of these 29 men for earning this rare opportunity,” said Uplifting Athletes Director of Chapter Development Brett Brackett, who played in the NFL. “To those that give, much is received. It is a just reward that those who took the time to elevate the cause in support of the Rare Disease Community get the opportunity to join a rare fraternity of men to sign an NFL contract after college.

“We wish each and every one of you good health, great success and to always do good with the platform bestowed upon you.”

Of the 29 players that took part in the Reps For Rare Diseases campaign this past March 12 of them were drafted and 17 were signed as undrafted free agents.

That group included a pair of first-round picks including one Top 10 selection, offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey from Notre Dame who was drafted No. 9 overall by the San Francisco 49ers. Someone that participated in Reps For Rare Diseases 2018 was drafted in every round except the third round.

Collectively this group raised nearly $39,000 in support of Uplifting Athletes mission through our four programs – Rare Disease Awareness, Rare Disease Research, Uplifting Experiences and Uplifting Leaders.

An opportunity to meet Penn State coach James Franklin at Stock’s Manor in Mechanicsburg, Pa. to benefit Uplifting Athletes

CJF GRAPHICWould you like to congratulate Coach Franklin for a great 2017 season?

We are excited to announce that James Franklin will be at Stock’s Manor in Mechanicsburg, Pa. on Thursday, March 15th from 5 to 7 p.m. to benefit Uplifting Athletes.

This is your opportunity to meet the Penn State head football coach in person, hear him speak about building a winning team and learn more about the rare disease community Uplifting Athletes serves.

An Evening With Coach Franklin at Stock’s Manor is being hosted by the Shirley and Weinstock families.

We are also proud to announce a pair of Penn State football lettermen, Jordan Hill and Brett Brackett, will join us for the evening.

Hill is a Super Bowl champion who currently is under contract with the Detroit Lions. Brackett was a team captain for the Nittany Lions, spent a half-decade in the NFL and currently serves as the Director of Chapter Development for Uplifting Athletes.

Individual tickets and sponsorship packages are available. Included in the sponsorship packages are VIP passes for a private meet and greet with Franklin. All tickets include heavy appetizers, drinks and photo opportunities.

For more details and information, please visit our event registration site and secure your ticket today.

We hope you can join us for An Evening With Coach Franklin at Stock’s Manor to benefit Uplifting Athletes.



Leadership Development Conference ’18 featured a little bit of everything for nearly 40 college football student-athletes

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For nearly a decade, Uplifting Athletes has been bringing college football student-athletes leaders together for a weekend of training and development.

Last week nearly 40 student-athletes traveled to Atlanta for the 2018 Leadership Development Conference hosted by Uplifting Athletes and put together by Director of Chapter Development Brett Brackett.

“The 2018 Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference was a tremendous success. I left the conference energized by the focus and determination in this group of student-athletes,” Brackett said. “Despite their hectic lives they took time to develop leadership and transferable skills while learning how they can work with Uplifting Athletes to leverage their platform to inspire the Rare Disease Community with hope.”

Following a meet-and-greet dinner Friday night, the conference kicked off Saturday with a full day of programming Saturday that was driven by Uplifting Athletes four pillars – Uplifting Leaders, Uplifting Experiences, Rare Disease Awareness and Rare Disease Research.

One of the many highlights from the student-athlete’s perspective was the discussion with the panel of former student-athlete who are now professionals.

Eight former college student-athletes from the Atlanta area took on all questions about transitioning from college into the professional world.

“The best part of the weekend was having the former student-athlete panel. Being a student-athlete is a privilege and requires a tremendous amount of time and effort. But eventually football will end. We all need a plan of action when that happens,” Syracuse Chapter leader Nolan Cooney said. “Having the former athletes speak to us, was an incredible opportunity to hear from players that are now having incredible success in the corporate world.

“There was no sugar coating the conversation, it was powerful, funny and engaging. Having athletes from various schools, with totally different lives created a connection with everybody in the room.”

Uplifting Athletes Director of Strategic Development Rob Long is a former rare disease patient and college football player. Sharing his story allowed the student-athletes to develop a more personal connection to the cause prior to a visit to the Scottish Rite Hospital for an afternoon of visiting with rare disease patients.

Sunday began with a session on fundraising followed by a video review of Uplifting Athletes 2017.

The conference closed with Beth Nguyen, a NORD Rare Impact Award Honoree, sharing her story. Nguyen battles the rare disease Syringomyelia and is a mother, nurse, wife, patient advocate and leader.

A special thank you to all our supporters who made this conference possible. These young men are making a difference in the rare disease community with your help.

We asked a few of the student-athletes to provide us with some feedback, and what we received was not only helpful to us going forward, but it moved us.

So we are going to share the exact words of two attendees, Cooney and Trey Klock from Northwestern, about what Leadership Development Conference ’18 meant to them.

Uplifting Athletes: In your own words sum up your experience at the Leadership Development Conference and share something that moved or impacted you?

Cooney: This year’s Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference was an incredible opportunity to further my knowledge on what Uplifting Athletes does to not only impact the lives of rare disease patients but as well for the student-athletes. The conference was a great experience to meet and interact with athletes from other universities. Regardless of what school you attend, everybody was sharing very similar stories of their experiences as football players and as leaders of Uplifting Athletes. It is really special to be able to take our on-field competitiveness out of the equation and developed strong relationships with athletes that we play every fall. Uplifting Athletes is continuously growing and adding new chapters. With the new schools at the conference, it created a completely new element to my thinking and ideas. Some of the new chapters were brainstorming ideas that seemed unconventional to the traditional model, but I think that we can use in the future. Atlanta was a great city to host it in. It was really nice to get some heat, after a few weeks in the cold north. I saw a big difference in the conference from the past year in Philadelphia to this year in Atlanta. In Philadelphia, I was fairly new to Uplifting Athletes and I don’t know if I had the confidence to feel that I could make an impact. This year, I felt confident and collaborative. I very much enjoyed the structure of the conference this year. Moving around to the different rooms and touching on the various areas that Uplifting Athletes covers. Then going to the hospital was an experience that you rarely get to have. Typically you raise money and send it in without knowing much about where it is going. By going to the hospital, you are able to see directly where all of our efforts are going to go by interacting with children that are battling a rare disease.

Klock: It was an honor to represent Northwestern football with my teammate Peter Snodgrass at the annual Leadership Development Conference. I made a lot of new friends and enjoyed hearing about the efforts of the new chapters such as Alabama, Western Michigan, Davidson, Lehigh, and others. This was my third Leadership Development Conference and I continued to learn a lot about what we can do as student-athletes to raise awareness and money to fight rare diseases. I enjoyed meeting Brett Brackett and talking more with Scott (Shirley), Rob, and Andy (Shay). They are all exceptional men that have done some amazing things with Uplifting Athletes. I especially enjoyed visiting the children’s hospital and meeting a lot of young people that are facing some adversity right now. It made me realize how lucky I am to be able to play the great game of football. We also had the opportunity to hear from Beth Nguyen, a 2017 NORD Rare Impact Award Honoree. She is a mother, wife, nurse, patient, and advocate for the rare disease community. In 2012, Beth was given the diagnosis of Syringomyelia and she later created a task force (WSCTF) to increase understanding of the disease across all medical disciplines and to improve direct patient care. She also started a patient registry to drive research, has organized support groups, and developed of the first-ever advocacy models of care for both Syringomyelia and Chiari Malformation. Everyone was intrigued by her message and very respectful of her mission. As I reflect on the weekend, I am so thankful for every chance I get to wake up and make an impact on the world.

Uplifting Athletes: What was your favorite part or aspect of the weekend and explain why?

Cooney: The best part of the weekend was having the former athlete panel. Being a student-athlete is a privilege and requires a tremendous amount of time and effort. But eventually football will end, we all need a plan of action when that happens. Having the former athletes speak to us, was an incredible opportunity to hear from players that are now having incredible success in the corporate world. There was no sugar coating the conversation, it was powerful, funny and engaging. Having athletes from various schools, with totally different lives created a connection with everybody in the room. Everybody in the room has incredible competitiveness, and the former athletes are giving us the tools to harness that and use it on and off the field. Uplifting Athletes encourages athletes to make a difference in the community, use the power of sport to tackle rare diseases. But also use the power of sport in all different areas. To paraphrase something that was said that resonated with me was, after you graduate your identity as an athlete diminishes. Utilize being a student-athlete, to create opportunities and relationships that you’ll use your entire life. Another piece that stuck with me is when the panel was asked how much being an athlete translates to the working work. They responded with, look at the job description, teamwork, time management, dedication, ability to listen. Every one of these qualities is developed being an athlete. As the weekend progressed, I was constantly thinking about tasks and ideas I was ready to tackle. It re-energizes my enthusiasm to grow our chapter and make a difference.

Klock: Besides visiting the children’s hospital, my favorite part of the weekend was the former student-athlete Q&A session. We had the opportunity to hear from a player panel of former college student-athletes living in the Atlanta area. We asked a lot of questions about making the transition from college into the professional world. They were all very successful people and I learned a lot from it. The focus of the weekend was to learn more about the fight against rare diseases and develop a goal for our individual chapters, but I also really enjoyed learning about the “Uplifting Leaders” part, which consisted of tools and advice to prepare for life after football.


Annual Leadership Development Conference welcomes 36 college football student-athletes to Atlanta

LDC18 GRAPHICFor the ninth consecutive year, we will gather college football student-athletes for three days of education, training and networking during the 2018 Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference.

This year 36 current football players from 18 universities across the country will travel to Atlanta on Friday, January 26 to kick off a busy weekend of engaging work sessions, networking and relationship building.

“We are excited to provide the student-athletes with an opportunity to network with other bright minded leaders in college football,” Uplifting Athletes Director of Chapter Development Brett Brackett said. “Our goal is to grow their personal skill set and help them learn more about how to leverage their position as student-athletes to impact the rare disease community through Uplifting Athletes.”

Among the 18 schools that will be represented in Atlanta, six of those are prospective Uplifting Athletes Chapters. Defending National Champion Alabama, Minnesota, Temple, Davidson, Lehigh and Western Michigan have student-athletes attending for the first time.

Current Chapter leaders from Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Syracuse, Illinois, Saint Francis, Penn, Northwestern, Maryland, Princeton and Stony Brook will also be in attendance.

The 2018 Leadership Development Conference will kick off with a team meal Friday night prior to a full weekend agenda.

The conference content is developed and driven by the Uplifting Athletes staff, but will also feature a panel of former student-athletes answering questions about the transition to the professional world.

Included in the workshop sessions on Saturday and Sunday are an overview of Uplifting Athletes, Lift For Life and Touchdown Pledge Drive event planning and transferable life skills development.

The highlight of Saturday will be an Uplifting Experience for the student-athletes featuring a visit to the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital to interact with rare disease patients.

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.


Former Penn State Chapter leader and offensive lineman Adam Gress passes away

ADAM GRESSFormer Penn State offensive lineman Adam Gress passed away Thursday.

The details surrounding his death are still emerging, but according to several reports Gress never recovered from a fall.

In addition to being a favorite among his teammates, Gress also served in a leadership role for the Penn State Chapter of Uplifting Athletes for his final two seasons.

“Adam will be missed but his legacy will live strong through the lives he impacted,” said Uplifting Athletes Chapter Manager Brett Brackett, who knew Gress as a teammate and friend.

“He never had bad intentions towards anyone or anything. Adam was a good-hearted guy that loved to make people laugh, worked hard and earned the respect of his teammates. I was the chapter president when Adam first became involved with Uplifting Athletes. He inspired all of us through his enthusiasm and willingness to give his time to benefit others.”

Gress, who was 26, graduated from Penn State with a degree in telecommunications and journalism before giving the NFL a shot in 2014 with the New York Giants.

A native of Pittsburgh, Gress was scheduled to marry his longtime girlfriend Angela Torchia this summer. He was working as a construction site manager in the Pittsburgh area at the time of his death.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Gress family.





2017 Beyond The Trophy: Meet Penn State Chapter Co-President and QB Trace McSorley


Each week during the college football season we will feature a player who is an officer for an Uplifting Athletes Chapter for our Beyond the Trophy series.

 Name: Trace McSorley

College: Penn State University

Height, weight, class, position: 6-0, 195-pound junior quarterback

High School: Briar Woods HS, Ashburn, Va.

About McSorley: Came to Penn State after winning three state championships in Virginia as a four-year starter. The Nittany Lions promised him a shot to play quarterback. … In his second year as a starter after guiding PSU to Big Ten Championship in 2016 as a redshirt sophomore. Threw for a school single-season record 3,614 yards in his first year as a starter. … Co-President of the Penn State Chapter. … Rated as one of the Top 20 quarterbacks in the country in passer rating, touchdown passes and passing yards.

What is your most memorable experience as a college football player?

McSorley: Being up on the podium celebrating the Big Ten Championship with my teammates and then continuing the celebration into the locker room.

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes, and what, if anything, has this experience done for you? McSorley: My parents always preached to me that football was a great platform to be able to do something lasting in life and once I heard about uplifting athletes and the impact it makes on the rare disease community, it was a no brainer to get involved.  Just meeting different guys who share the want to help in the community from around the country and being able to form lasting relationships with some of them has been amazing.

As a player, what is your favorite part of the game day experience at your home stadium?

McSorley: Running into the stadium with the crowd going crazy and fireworks being shot off from above.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

McSorley: Drew Brees, similar play style and also similar stature as far as him beating the stigma of being “too short”

If you could have lunch with any one person (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?

McSorley: Sean Taylor, was my favorite player growing up and still one of my all time favorites.

What is your favorite road stadium to play in and why?

McSorley: That’s tough, I’d probably say Iowa even though it was incredibly hard to play there, and the atmosphere is just unreal.

In your words, what are some of the things you are looking for in life after football or big goals for the future?

McSorley: To have a job that I love and am passionate about.


What is your perfect pizza?

McSorley: Pepperoni and sausage

Last 3 songs you added to your playlist?

McSorley: The whole Future and Young Thug album “Super Slimey”

Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus?

McSorley: Taylor Swift

 If you could spend the day with any celebrity, who would it be?

McSorley: Lebron James

What was the last movie you went to the theater and saw?

McSorley: American Made

In the Mountains or on a Beach?

McSorley: Beach