Voting to determine 2017 Rare Disease Champion hits the stretch run

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Voting to determine the ninth winner of the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion award has reached the home stretch.

The 2017 winner is decided by a public online vote that runs until midnight on January 31st. You can vote once each day for your favorite finalist.

Each year since 2009, Uplifting Athletes has recognized a leader in college football that realized his or her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community as the Rare Disease Champion. USC long snapper Jake Olson was the 2016 winner.

This year the four finalists are: James Conner, Pitt; Michael Hirsch, Michigan; Mitchell Meyers, Iowa State and Dexter Williams, Notre Dame.

Voting to determine the 2017 Rare Disease Champion started on January 9th, and with less than a week remaining Iowa State defensive Meyers is leading the way.

The 2017 Rare Disease Champion will officially be announced on February 1st to kick off Rare Disease Month. And the winner will be formally honored as part of the annual Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala on March 10th at Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City.

Illinois Chapter President Joe Spencer named Wooden Citizen Cup Finalist

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Illinois football center Joe Spencer was recently announced as a finalist for the Wooden Citizen Cup, an award given to the most outstanding role model among athletes.

The award, named after famed UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, is given to one college, professional and high school athlete (or athletic figure) per year for character and leadership both on and off the field and for contributions to sport and society. Athletes for a Better World is presenting the Wooden Cup for the 13th year.

Spencer’s work in the community and the classroom has been incredible during his four years in Champaign. The 2016 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honorees’ long list of community involvement includes serving as president of Illinois’ Uplifting Athletes chapter, president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, raising nearly $40,000 for charity in two years by organizing the Illini’s “Lift for Life,” helping organize Illinois’ student-athlete variety show that has raised more than $80,000 in the last five years, being a “Big” at the local Big Brothers Big Sisters, spearheading the Leadership Summit for local middle school students, volunteering at the Special Olympics, and visiting nearly every elementary school in Champaign-Urbana.

Spencer was a team captain for the 2016 Illini football team and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors by the media. He started 37 games during his Illinois career, including 11 this season. Spencer is enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Illinois after earning a bachelor’s degree in finance in May 2016.

Recipients of the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup are determined by the Wooden Cup Selection Committee after reviewing voting by the Board of Directors and over 100 distinguished individuals involved in athletics across the country.

The 2017 Collegiate Wooden Cup recipient will be announced at an award ceremony in April in Atlanta.

On behalf of the rare disease community Uplifting Athletes serves, thank you Joe Spencer for using your platform as a college football student athlete to inspire others with hope.



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!


Penn State QB Trace McSorley ignites Nittany Lions offense to earn Uplifting Athletes Player of the Week

psu-tracePenn State has rebounded nicely since losing to Michigan on the road two weeks ago. And the Nittany Lions offense led by first-year quarterback Trace McSorley is taking some of the pressure off a banged up defense.

McSorley used his legs and arm to shoot down previously unbeaten Maryland by accounting for 265 total yards and three touchdowns in the 24-point victory to earn Uplifting Athletes Player of the Week honors.

The 6-0, 205-pound sophomore from Virginia threw for 152 yards on 10 completions with a pair of touchdowns, and ran for another 113 yards on 18 carries with a TD for the 4-2 Nittany Lions.

McSorley is also part of the leadership team for the Penn State Chapter of Uplifting Athletes. He attended the annual Uplifting Athletes Leadership Retreat this past May and helped plan the annual Penn State Lift For Life in support of the rare disease community.

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

Pair of Uplifting Athletes Chapter leaders selected as 2016 Campbell Trophy semifinalists


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A pair of Uplifting Athletes Chapter leaders have been chosen as a semifinalist for the 2016 William V. Campbell Trophy presented by Fidelity.

Illinois Chapter President and starting center Joe Spencer and St. Francis Chapter leader and kicker Lance Geesey are among the 156 semifinalists announced by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.

Nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, candidates must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2, possess outstanding football ability and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.

Spencer has been president of the Illinois Chapter for the last three years and has been instrumental is raising the profile of the Illini Chapter in the rare disease community. Spencer has made 28 starts in his career and is on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy (nation’s best center) and Wuerffel Trophy (community service award).

Geesey was an FCS Athletic Directors All-American in 2015 after making 16 of 17 field goals last season and 28 of 29 extra points and has assisted each of the last two years with St. Francis Chapter Lift For Life. Geesey, the 2015 winner of the CFPA Placekicker of the Year Award, was a Preseason All-America selection by College Sports Madness, Football Gameplan, HERO Sports and STATS FCS.

The NFF will announce 12-14 finalists on Nov. 1, and each of them will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship as a member of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class, presented by Fidelity Investments. The finalists will travel to New York City for the 59th NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 6.

Beyond The Trophy: Sam Tullman, Penn Quakers DE


Each week during the 2016 college football season, Uplifting Athletes will feature a leader from our nationwide network of student-athlete led chapters.

Name: Sam Tullman

College: University of Pennsylvania

Height, weight, class, position: 6-4, 230 pounds, senior, defensive end

High School: North Shore Country Day School, Wilmette, Ill.

About Sam Tullman: Came to Penn as freshman in 2013 after a strong three-sport high school career on the North Shore just outside Chicago. Tullman did not see any varsity action his first two years, but did see some playing time in 2015 as part of the Quakers 17th Ivy League Championship in program history. Tullman is the President of the Penn Chapter of Uplifting Athletes and has served as a strong and passionate rare disease advocate.

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

Tullman: Other than winning, which is an essential part of the Quaker experience we’ve restored, the post-game tailgate is awesome. The parents put together an unbelievable spread for us, so we can eat ourselves to sleep. I know it’s not our nutritionists favorite part of the game day experience, though.

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes, and what, if anything, has this experience done for you?

Tullman: When our defensive coordinator, coach Benson, approached myself and two of my other buddies on the team and told us about this incredible man who he coached when he was at Georgetown – who is currently researching his own rare disease barely two blocks away at Penn. The man’s name is Dr. Fajgenbaum, and calling him an inspiration to the three of us and the rest of our team is an understatement. His cause became our cause, and our cause likewise fit with Uplifting Athletes’ cause. Among other things, it’s given me a sense of perspective. A perspective of what other people are dealing with that I couldn’t begin to understand, and perspective on how many people really do care and are doing something to advance rare disease research and awareness.

What has been your most memorable experience as a college football player?

Tullman: Upsetting No. 4 Villanova last year. That was a goal of mine from before I even played my first snap in practice my freshman year. The intensity during the game, the excitement as we stormed the field and the feeling of accomplishment in the aftermath was only matched in winning the Ivy League Championship.

What is the toughest team you’ve faced or regularly play, and what makes them so difficult?

Tullman: Playing against quality, mobile quarterbacks is always stressful as a defensive player. Lehigh beat us pretty handily last year, as did Dartmouth with quarterback Dalyn Williams. Villanova two years ago was also a tough one when John Robertson was healthy.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

Tullman: Cameron Wake. He plays my position (defensive end) and I love the way he plays it, being slightly undersized but making up for it with explosiveness and sheer athleticism. But even more, I love him because he was totally counted out of the NFL and played in Canada for two years to prove himself. He did, and is one of the best in the league as this position, if not the best when he’s healthy.

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

Tullman: Cornell. I’ve never been, but it’s where we are going to win and celebrate the championship this year.

What is your major and what are some of your plans and dreams after college football?

Tullman: I’m majoring in biological basis of behavior, which is really just a complicated name for neuroscience. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’m going to use it. But I know it’s not in research or as a doctor. I’m an entrepreneur and leader at heart, so I think the start-up space is where I’m headed.



Beyond The Trophy: Zach Mahoney, Syracuse University QB

ZACH MAHONEY 1Each week during the 2016 college football season, Uplifting Athletes will feature a leader from our nationwide network of student-athlete led chapters.

Name: Zach Mahoney

College: Syracuse University

Height, weight, class, position: 6-2, 192 pounds, sophomore, quarterback

High School: Lyons Township, LaGrange Park, Ill.

About Zach Mahoney: Mahoney came to Syracuse prior to the 2015 season as a walk-on after spending a year in junior college in Illinois. He entered the 2015 season as the No. 5 quarterback on the Orange depth chart, and ended up playing in eight games with five starts. A leader of the Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes, Mahoney ended up throwing for 535 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He also rushed for an additional 150 yards and a couple scores. A member of the SU Athletic Director’s Honor Roll, Mahoney threw for nearly 2,000 yards in his one season at the College of DuPage, and holds the record for career passing yards at his high school. Just prior to the 2016 season, Mahoney received a full scholarship from the new Orange coaching staff.

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

Mahoney: My favorite home game day experience is first walking out of the tunnel. The smoke is covering what we see in front of us and when we are running out onto the field the stadium is electric and it is the best feeling in the world.

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes, and what, if anything, has this experience done for you?

Mahoney: I did a lot of charity work in high school and I wanted to continue to doing work that will help the community and those who are less fortunate. Working with Uplifting Athletes has given me a chance to meet some true heroes, amazing people, and real inspirations for being blessed to be able to play football. Being able to see the face of those who have rare diseases and let them know that I, and Syracuse football and many other schools has their back is a great feeling.

What has been your most memorable experience as a college football player?

Mahoney: My most memorable experience as a college football player was receiving my scholarship. It was a huge relief for me and my family, but it just shows that hard work and dedication will allow for your dreams to come true.

What is the toughest team you’ve faced or regularly play, and what makes them so difficult?

Mahoney: The most physically gifted teams that I have played were LSU and Clemson, but Boston College was the toughest team that I faced. They were not as fast as the other teams, but they never made a mistake and played with so much heart.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

Mahoney: Tom Brady. He is a great leader and he knows how to win. Although his receiving core has never been great, especially compared to some of the other great quarterbacks, he is a true champion.

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

Mahoney: My favorite road stadium that I have played in would be Florida State. The tradition behind their stadium and program is first class and to be able to see it first hand was a fun experience.

What is your major and what are some of your plans and dreams after college football?

Mahoney: My major is Communication and Rhetorical Studies. I want to pursue a masters at Syracuse and be able to continue to stay involved not only in sports and football, but also helping those around me. If I have an opportunity to play professionally that would be a dream, but staying healthy and living a long life involved in sports and helping others is my true goal in life.