A special night with Penn State coach James Franklin to support the rare disease community

CJF THANKS GRAPHIC 1Thank you to Penn State head football coach James Franklin for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to visit us in Mechanicsburg, Pa. last month.

A Night With Coach Franklin At Stock’s Manor to benefit Uplifting Athletes provided fans and supporters an opportunity to meet the Penn State head football coach, hear him speak about building a winning team and learn more about the rare disease community Uplifting Athletes serves.

Nearly 250 college football fans showed up for the two-hour event hosted by the Weinstock and Shirley families.

Guests had their picture taken with coach Franklin, enjoyed some exquisite food and soaked in the festive atmosphere before coach Franklin took the stage with an inspirational message.

A special thank you to all our sponsors for making the evening a complete success. All the funds raised support Uplifting Athletes mission to inspire the rare disease community with hope through the power of sport and directly impacts our four pillars of programming: Uplifting Leaders, Rare Disease Research, Rare Disease Awareness and Uplifting Experiences.

To put the evening in perspective, we asked a few of our guests to share their thoughts on the event.

“The event hosted by Uplifting Athletes at Stock’s Manor left little extra to be desired. The venue provided a beautiful intimate setting perfect for an evening of mingling with those who share a passion for Penn State and the rare disease community. The food far exceeded the advertised label of “appetizer”, with numerous hot dishes available along with a wide selection of finger foods. I would be remiss not to mention the variety of drinks available as well. There were plenty of the alcoholic nature, helping to take the edge off a bit as attendees anticipated meeting the coach and hearing him talk about bringing Penn State football back into the national spotlight. Coach James Franklin, surely didn’t disappoint either. His infectious and warm personality embraced those looking to have their picture taken with him, and his fiery keynote was the perfect ending to the night. The opportunity to attend a presentation where coach doesn’t need to use a microphone are likely few and far between these days. This event provided that opportunity and more, all while raising money for a great cause. It’s great anytime the “family” can get together as coach says and this was another great example. Being able to help the rare disease community made it all the more special and truly meaningful. Much appreciation and thanks to Uplifting Athletes for all they represent and do. I look forward to similar potential events. I will most certainly be there!” – Travis Wentz

“I enjoyed Coach Franklin’s speech when he said how important it is to sacrifice to achieve success both on the field and in life.  Very motivating for athletes and those in attendance.” – Joseph Gordon

“An Evening with Coach Franklin event last Thursday evening was amazing.  As a fan, as a Penn Stater and as a host. So many events you can feel the nervousness and anxiety. Not last Thursday. The feeling was electric, friendly, and intimate. Which was even before Coach walked into the room! The feeling was a tailgate with your best friends. I can not decide if watching every single person having their picture taken with Coach or listening to him speak was more exciting. Listening to someone talk about something they have a passion for makes you know how much they love it. Coach Franklin made everyone feel like they could put on a jersey and run out onto the field and catch a winning touchdown. Working with Stephanie and Scott (Shirley) was just as fun. I think we are all proud of the way the evening turned out. It seemed everyone had a great time and we raised money for a wonderful cause.” – K.J. Weinstock




Four former Penn State Nittany Lions launch Reps For Rare Diseases campaign for upcoming NFL Combine

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Four former Penn State Nittany Lion football players are using the next step toward their NFL dream as an opportunity to give back and inspire the Rare Disease Community.

Each former Penn State standout is running a Reps For Rare Diseases campaign for the upcoming NFL Combine to support Uplifting Athletes.

Former Penn State Chapter Co-President, linebacker and team captain Jason Cabinda, tight end Mike Gesicki, cornerback Grant Haley and safety Troy Apke have each chosen to launch individual campaigns.

Fans and supporters can pledge to any one or all four players for each bench press repetition they perform at the NFL Combine in early March by visiting the 2018 Uplifting Athletes Reps For Rare Diseases page.

All four former Nittany Lions view Uplifting Athletes and the Penn State Chapter as an important part of their college experience, and that is why they chose to launch their Reps for Rare Diseases campaign.

Proceeds from all Reps For Rare Diseases campaigns support the mission of Uplifting Athletes and its charitable 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.


Five college football programs with an Uplifting Athletes Chapter close out the season with a bowl victory

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Seven college football programs with an Uplifting Athletes Chapter were involved in one of the 41 bowl games to end the 2017 season.

Five of the seven, Florida State, NC State, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Penn State, came out with victories in their final game of the year.

NC State set a Sun Bowl record with six rushing touchdowns on in a three-touchdown victory over Arizona State. The Wolfpack offense piled up nearly 500 yards while the defense forced ASU into four turnovers. NC State finished 9-4 overall and should finish inside the Top 20.

Penn State wrapped up its second 11-win season in a row behind 342 yards passing from Fiesta Bowl MVP Trace McSorley to nudge past Washington. The Nittany Lions, who converted on 13 of 17 third-down opportunities, jumped out to a 28-7 lead before the Huskies made a late charge. PSU finished as a Top 10 team for the second year in a row.

Northwestern’s defense knocked down a 2-point conversion by Kentucky in the dying seconds to give the Wildcats a one-point victory in the Music City Bowl. The win was Northwestern’s eighth in a row and gave a Wildcats squad that was 2-3 at one point a 10-win season. RB Justin Jackson was a workhorse, carrying 32 times for 157 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Notre Dame WR Miles Boykin made a dramatic one-handed catch and then raced 55 yards for the score with less than 90 seconds remaining to propel the Fighting Irish past LSU in the Citrus Bowl. The win gave ND a 10-win season, ended a nine-game losing streak in January postseason games and was the Fighting Irish’s first New Year’s Day win since the 1994 Cotton Bowl.

Florida State closed out a difficult 2017 that included major injuries to key players and the departure of long-time head coach Jimbo Fisher with four consecutive victories to avoid its first losing season since 1976. The Seminoles ran away from South Mississippi behind an Independence Bowl record four touchdown passes from freshman quarterback James Blackman.

Defending National Champion Clemson played Alabama in its final game of the season for the third consecutive year. And for the first time since 2015, the College Football Playoff Championship Game did not include the Tigers after they fell to the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.

With five programs with an Uplifting Athletes Chapter finishing with at least 10 wins, Clemson, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn State and Washington, and NC State finishing with nine victories, there could be six chapter schools ranked inside the final Top 20 rankings.


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.