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.


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.


Sixth annual Uplifting Athletes Gridiron Gala was a night of inspiration

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Uplifting Athletes held its sixth annual Gridiron Gala last weekend at the Keystone Building in Harrisburg, Pa. It was a fantastic evening of celebration focused on positively impacting the rare disease community.

We truly appreciate Dr. Phillip Abbosh, BethAnn Telford, Rob Long and Brett Brackett for joining us and sharing their inspirational stories shining a light on the four Uplifting Athletes programming initiatives.

Dr. Abbosh is a researcher at Fox Chase in Philadelphia and received a research grant from Uplifting Athletes. Telford is a rare brain cancer survivor who has become an advocate and fundraiser. Long is also a rare brain cancer survivor and serves as the inspiration for Syracuse starting an Uplifting Athletes Chapter and Brackett is a former NFL player who served as a past president of the Penn State Chapter.

The support of our Gridiron Gala guests and sponsors goes a long way in helping Uplifting Athletes bring our mission to life across the country as we inspire the rare disease community with hope through the power of sport.


Thanks to everyone who came out for the celebration and a special thank you to our sponsors for making the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Gridiron Gala our most successful ever.

Together … We Are … Stronger!



Uplifting Athletes donates $25,000 to Fox Chase Cancer Center for kidney cancer research in honor of Shimko family

temple-fox-chase-imageUplifting Athletes presented a $25,000 to the Fox Chase Cancer Center in support of kidney cancer research earlier this week.

The research grant to Fox Chase is made in honor of the Shimko Family through the Penn State Chapter of Uplifting Athletes in support of its mission of using college football as a platform to inspire the rare disease community with hope through the power of sport.

This award is for a young investigator working on translational research to benefit the kidney cancer community. The grant from Uplifting Athletes to Fox Chase Cancer Center will enhance the research being done by Dr. Phillip Abbosh under the guidance of Dr. Robert G. Uzzo.

“It’s an honor to put this money to work in the name of the Shimko family. Their support has been unwavering,” said Uplifting Athletes founder Scott Shirley. “This is a great example of our efforts to directly fund more early-stage projects that are focused on the rare diseases [such as kidney cancer] that inspire us, and at the same time, have translational benefits that will potentially help all rare disease patients.”

Michael Shimko Sr. passed away in 2006 from kidney cancer. A huge Penn State football fan, his passing served as an inspiration for his widow JoAnn, and son Michael Jr. to make an impact.

For the last 10 years, the Shimko Golf Outing in Scranton has raised funds to support the Penn State Chapter of Uplifting Athletes and the kidney cancer community.

JoAnn and Michael Jr. joined Uplifting Athletes in Philadelphia for the check presentation, and were able to talk with Dr. Abbosh and Dr. Uzzo about their research and the impact those funds would have. Dr. Abbosh also took them on a tour of Fox Chase including a visit to the lab.

“Over the past 10 years, my mother and I have worked tirelessly with our friends and family to raise funds for kidney cancer research,” Michael Shimko Jr. said. “It’s an honor to support an institution like Temple Fox Chase whose commitment to cancer research is so unwavering.”

The college football student-athlete led Penn State Chapter of Uplifting Athletes has championed the kidney cancer cause since 2003, and has raised more than $1 million in support of research for this rare disease.

Visit upliftingathletes.org to learn more about our mission or click here to help fund life saving research today!

Former Syracuse All-American and rare disease patient, Rob Long, joins Uplifting Athletes team

ROB LONG3Uplifting Athletes is pleased to welcome Rob Long to our team as the Director of Strategic Development.

Rob is a former All-American punter at Syracuse University, but more importantly he was a rare disease patient. In December of 2010, Rob was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer, during his senior season.

His battle with a rare disease inspired Rob’s teammates at Syracuse to start an Uplifting Athletes Chapter. And he’s continued to use his platform as a rare disease patient to raise awareness and funds in his spare time.

“It is truly a blessing to love what I do. This opportunity allows me to combine my passions of sports and fundraising to help a cause so near and dear to my heart,” Long said. “At Uplifting Athletes we raise money and awareness that supports rare disease research and patient focused programs.

“As a rare disease survivor I now have the opportunity to help others as so many have helped me.”

At Uplifting Athletes, Rob will be responsible for overseeing our nationwide network of 25 college football student-athlete led Chapters, harvesting major donor gifts and devising and executing growth opportunities for the national non-profit organization.

“We are excited and fortunate to have Rob join the Uplifting Athletes team,” Uplifting Athletes Founder and Executive Director Scott Shirley said. “Rob was an inspiration for Syracuse starting a chapter and it’s been fun to watch Syracuse grow into one of our bigger chapters. His unique perspective as a rare disease patient will serve Uplifting Athletes well today and into the future.”

Rob is a graduate of Syracuse University where he pursued a Masters in New Media Management from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. He also received a B.S. from the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. He played football all four years at Syracuse and was voted by his teammates as a team captain his final two years.

Prior to joining Uplifting Athletes, Rob spent 12 months as the Director of Sales for ProZone Lockers. A native of suburban Philadelphia, Rob graduated from Downingtown West High School and currently lives in South Philadelphia.



Celebrating a memorable 2014 for Uplifting Athletes

UA COLLAGEUplifting Athletes has plenty to celebrate in as we near the end of our seventh year as a national non-profit.

The continued support of our expanding coast-to-coast network of student-athlete led chapters is the main reason for our success.

On behalf of the 30 million Americans currently battling a rare disease, and our 25 college football student athlete-led chapters, thank you for helping Uplifting Athletes tackle rare diseases.

In 2014 our network of chapters held 34 events from the signature Lift For Life raising more than $200,000 for rare disease research to our new in-season Touchdown Pledge Drive bringing in almost $36,000.

Uplifting Athletes could not support our network of 25 college football student-athlete led Chapters to raise research dollars and spread awareness without our supporters.

The Heisman Trust became an Uplifting Athletes supporter in 2014 with a chapter expansion and growth matching grant. Our chapters raised nearly $250,000 for rare disease research through its events. And the Penn State Chapter eclipsed the $1 million raised threshold since 2003 in support of kidney cancer research.

So as 2014 comes to a close we can all join together to celebrate the ability of our chapters this year to capitalize on the grand stage of the college football season – the time of year when the student-athletes are the most relevant.

“I am very grateful to you for bringing Uplifting Athletes to Arizona and teaching my son the value of service. feel like his experience with this has been more beneficial than any class or football game could be. I am very proud of Brendan for many things, but his involvement with Uplifting Athletes is among the top.” – Jodi Murphy, Mom of Arizona Chapter President Brendan Murphy

For the first time in our seven-year history, each Uplifting Athletes Chapter had the opportunity to support their individual chosen rare disease with an in-season Touchdown Pledge Drive.

Football is all about teamwork, and it took a cohesive team effort by everyone involved with Uplifting Athletes to make these awareness and fundraising campaigns happen at 13 chapters nationwide in 2014.

With Uplifting Athletes becoming directly relevant during the college football season for the first time, our platform is now bigger and stronger.

And we want to continue to have a loud voice in 2015 on this grand stage of college football in order to continue our support of those fighting any one of the 7,000 rare diseases.

“Uplifting Athletes has done so much for me. This organization brought me closer to my college teammates and connected me with some tremendous people in the Big Ten Conference. Working with Uplifting Athletes means being part of something bigger than the game.” – Chris Borland, San Francisco Forty-Niners LB and Wisconsin graduate

On the road with Uplifting Athletes Chapter Manager Becky Mayes during Touchdown Pledge Drive season

HeadshotBecky Mayes is the Chapter Manager at Uplifting Athletes. The 2012 Penn State graduate directly oversees all 25 Chapters in our network and works with them to coordinate all events and campaigns aimed at raising awareness of and research funds for rare diseases.

Through her position and duties, she spent most of this fall on the road preparing 12 Chapters to hold Touchdown Pledge Drives, and working with other current and perspective Chapters to lay the ground work for future events.

In the pursuit of a successful inaugural Touchdown Pledge Drive season Becky flew more than 13,000 miles through 14 different airports and drove more than 6,500 miles through 22 states.

Back home in Harrisburg, Pa. – the location of our national non-profit headquarters – for the Holiday Season, we sat down with Becky to review and recap a busy college football season on the road.


Nebraska Pediatric Brain Cancer Awareness Game

QUESTION 1: Share with us what your experiences were this fall working closely with the college football student-athletes during the season for the first time compared to the offseason?

MAYES: Time availability of college football players is drastically different over the spring and summer when most Chapters plan their Lift For Life event versus the fall.

This football season was a big test with most of our Chapters attempting to hold a campaign through the Touchdown Pledge Drive. I needed to make sure this campaign was as simple as possible to execute while still being attractive and engaging enough for their fans to want to participate.

From a campaign planning perspective, there were no operational logistics involved which was a huge help for the student athletes – no need for them to worry about event parking, ticket sales or permit registrations. They just needed to focus on two main things: marketing their Touchdown Pledge Drive before their selected game and scoring touchdowns.

Although this campaign has less moving parts, these student-athletes have very little time available to devote to preparing for it. For me, that meant needing to be much more flexible with my time. The players at the University of Washington can’t talk until after practice on Tuesday? That means I’ll be up until at least 11pm EST to make sure they know what their next steps are and how to execute them.

Since this was also the first time many of our Chapters held a Touchdown Pledge Drive, I had a lot of Chapter visits to make early in the year. I had meetings with not only with the student-athlete leadership team but also coaches and athletics staff making sure all bases were covered and everyone was comfortable and up to speed with this campaign every step of the way.


Florida State Seminoles “Unconquered” Statue

QUESTION 2: What surprised you the most about running a first-year fundraiser this fall for 9 of our 12 Chapters?

MAYES: I pretty much went into this fall with open eyes unsure of what to expect. We have had three Chapters hold Touchdown Pledge Drives before but none with the automated software we have now.

Colgate, Princeton and Florida State all kept track of pledges manually last year which was obviously very time consuming and something we needed to find a solution to this year which we did through Pldgit.com. Even with a bit of experience last year holding three Touchdown Pledge Drives, I was most surprised by the feedback we got from the Chapter supporters and Chapter leaders.

The fans loved knowing that with every touchdown celebration, they were part of raising rare disease research funds through their pledge. Similarly, the Chapter leaders relished every touchdown a bit more knowing that meant more research funds raised for a cause close to them.

It became more than just about six points on the scoreboard, and I could see the positive impact that had for both the players and their fans.


Baylor Homecoming & Touchdown Pledge Drive Game

QUESTION 3: As luck would have it you were in the stadium for some of the biggest college football games this season. Give us the one that stands out the most to you and why?

MAYES: I’ve definitely been able to witness some great football games live this year, attending at least one from each of the five major conferences. Every team and university has its own traditions, which are all fantastic to experience in person.

However, a highlight this year would be visiting Baylor for their homecoming and Touchdown Pledge Drive game on November 1st against Kansas in Waco. It was my first game in the Bears’ new stadium – which is gorgeous with the big scoreboard overlooking the river that divides it from the rest of the campus.

For the first homecoming game in the new stadium, Baylor striped the stadium green and gold coordinated by section ahead of time. The weather was great, and the Bears had an explosive day on offensive – scoring six touchdowns and raising more than $6,000 for Cerebral Palsy research.


Fordham’s Victory Bell

QUESTION 4: Now that Uplifting Athletes Chapters have two fundraising opportunities on a yearly basis, how does that change the landscape of carrying out their mission beyond the obvious chance to raise more dollars?

MAYES: One of the biggest things we’ve struggled with is how to enable and allow our Chapters to engage their fan base and support network during the college football season – when they have the most people tuned into their team and the least amount of time to focus on anything besides school and football.

Having our Chapters able to now hold Touchdown Pledge Drives during the fall opens up the biggest opportunity for them to raise awareness and research funds for a rare disease that hits home for them.

This campaign also creates a more active year-long conversation about what rare diseases are, how so many people have been impacted by them, and what can be done to help.

We are definitely a huge step closer to creating national awareness for the 30 Million Americans who currently suffer from any one of the more than 7,000 rare diseases where more than 95 percent of those currently have no FDA approved treatment option.


Penn State vs. Ohio State White-Out

QUESTION 5: With all those miles traveled and cities visited on the road, share with us one travel experience you’d like to forget but won’t be able to forget?

MAYES: As with anyone who is used to life on the road, I’ve become somewhat unphased by travel mishaps, crazy weather and sleepless nights. Just this fall, I’ve opened up the Dallas airport at 3:30 a.m. to fly to Phoenix so I could then drive up to Flagstaff for a 1 p.m. meeting that day.

I’ve had multiple flights cancelled which meant landing at an airport different from where I left my car and needing to rent a car one day later to retrieve my car. I drove nearly three hours to the closest available hotel after a Clemson-Florida State game in Tallahassee that ended around midnight

I was completely unprepared with no coat for a surprise cold weather spell in the beginning of October at the Illinois Chapter Touchdown Pledge Drive game at Memorial Stadium against Purdue. I’ve been on the road for more than two-thirds of this football season and have tried to embrace every part of what that entails.

From these past three months, there are a lot of very special memories – many of them coming from curveballs thrown my way. Regardless of what city I wake up in or how often my watch is set in the wrong time zone, I feel so incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to enable college football players to make an incredible impact in the rare disease community.

Helping them raise more than $36,000 this fall through their Touchdown Pledge Drives makes every part of this worth it.


View Flying into Chicago in September