Former Orange linebacker Zaire Franklin joins Uplifting Athletes Reps For Rare Diseases team during Syracuse Pro Day March 19

ZAIRE RFRD 18 GRAPHICFormer Syracuse standout Zaire Franklin has chosen to make his Pro Day a platform to inspire the rare disease community with hope through the power of sport.

The linebacker is doing a Reps For Rare Diseases campaign with Uplifting Athletes to support the Rare Disease Community.

Fans and supporters can join Zaire and Uplifting Athletes to help tackle rare diseases by making a pledge today for every bench press repetition Franklin performs at the Syracuse Pro Day on March 19 by visiting his Reps For Rare Diseases site.

Franklin views Uplifting Athletes as an important part of his Syracuse experience, and that is why he chose to launch a Reps for Rare Diseases campaign.

As I take a step toward my NFL dream, I’d like to use this opportunity to give back,” Franklin said. “I have committed my performance at the Syracuse Pro Day to support Uplifting Athletes and its mission to help tackle rare diseases.”

The proceeds from this Reps For Rare Diseases campaign support the mission of Uplifting Athletes and its charitable programs: Rare Disease Awareness, Rare Disease Research, Uplifting Experiences and Uplifting Leaders.

Make your pledge now to join Zaire Franklin in the fight against rare diseases.

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.


2018 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Zack Mahoney, Syracuse

Each of the finalists for the 2018 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2018 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced Tuesday, January 9th.

Syracuse University VS LSU


University: Syracuse University

Vitals: 6-2, 215-pound senior quarterback

Quick Hits: A former walk-on who played a year of junior college football before enrolling at Syracuse in January 2016. Earned a full scholarship prior to the 2016 season and has been a solid back-up for three seasons. … Appeared in 25 games over three seasons with 10 starts. Threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. … President of the Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes and a member of the Syracuse Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). … In 2016, broke Jim Brown’s school record for touchdown responsibility with seven TDs at Pittsburgh, including tying Ryan Nassib’s school single-game record with five touchdown passes. … Earned his bachelor’s degree in communications and rhetorical studies and is pursuing a graduate degree in public relations.


For nearly all of his life Mahoney has made serving others in the rare disease community a part of his DNA. A journey of selfless service and friendship that started in elementary school continues to be a high priority for Mahoney.

Rare disease patient Blake Donegan and the former Syracuse quarterback became friends in the second grade and enjoyed a normal school-age friendship over the next half-dozen years.

But, Mahoney had not seen Donegan during the summer before their freshman year of high school, and when he did Donegan was in a wheelchair.

The secret of Donegan’s diagnosis with the rare disease Niemann-Pick disease, Type C, a lipid storage affliction that can lead to respiratory failure and liver damage and has no known cure, was out.

Donegan suffers seizures on a daily basis, struggles to speak, eat or stand on his own. But he’s a fighter with an infectious never-give-up attitude that served as a great inspiration for Mahoney.


Shortly after Mahoney arrived on campus as a walk-on, he learned about the Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes. Because of his relationship with Donegan back home, he immediately knew this was another avenue to shine a spotlight on the rare disease community.

Mahoney quickly assumed a leadership role for the Syracuse Chapter in 2016 and in 2017 became the President and was responsible for organizing all the awareness and fundraising events for the chapter. But, of course, Mahoney went above and beyond and established another deeply personal connection.

He formed a bond with Lillian Belfield and her family. The Belfield family is from nearby Mexico, NY and in 2015 Lillian was diagnosed with Anaplastic astroblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer, as a 7-year-old.

Mahoney and his teammates have become part of “Lilly’s Army” and have made this relationship between the Belfield family and the Syracuse football program personal.

They’ve attended soccer games, birthday parties, invited them to Syracuse Chapter events, visited Lillian in the hospital, sent notes and cards with uplifting messages. Some of the players even shaved their heads in support of Syracuse’s St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraising event.

As a leader of the Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes, Mahoney has helped raise more than $30,000. He keeps the rest of his teammates engaged and active in support of their mission and provides a strong advocacy voice for the rare disease community.


“When we’re having a bad day it’s nothing compared to what some people have had to go through on a daily basis. Seeing that really puts things in perspective for me. Really, they are the ones that are inspiring me.” – Zack Mahoney

“What has completely struck me is how incredibly genuine is their feelings for Lillian and their concern for Lillian. That’s not something I expected.” – Laura Belfield

“For them to take time out of their busy schedules to get up early on a Saturday morning to come cheer on Lillian at a soccer game, or to come visit her in the hospital it’s really meant the world to our family. For a moment I put myself in their shoes when I was in college, I was more concerned about my social life than kids in the hospital. It’s impressive.” – Jeremy Belfield



Anaplastic Astrocytoma diagnosis provided motivation for Syracuse football program to tackle rare diseases

RARE DISEASE SPOTLIGHT GRAPHICThere are more than 7,000 different 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: Anaplastic Astrocytoma

Brief Description: Anaplastic astrocytoma is a rare malignant brain tumor. Astrocytomas are tumors that develop from certain star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes. Astrocytes and similar cells form tissue that surrounds and protects other nerve cells found within the brain and spinal cord. Astrocytomas are classified according to a grading system developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Astrocytomas come in four grades based upon how fast the cells are reproducing and that likelihood that they will spread. The exact cause is unknown, and it tends to affect adults more than children and males over females.

Rare Connection: Former Syracuse punter Rob Long was diagnosed with Grade III Anaplastic Astrocytoma 5 after days the final game of his senior season. Bound for the NFL as one of the best punters in the college football, Long was suddenly in a fight for his life. The standard prognosis for a Grade III diagnosis like Rob’s is an expected life span of 3-5 years. The harrowing news did not deter Rob. It motivated him to literally fight for his life. That fight served as an inspiration to many in Rob’s circle of life – including his teammates at Syracuse. Using Rob as an inspiration, several members of the Orange football team, led by Sam Rodgers, put in the hard work and time to form an Uplifting Athletes Chapter on campus to inspire their teammate with hope and let him know they were doing everything they could to support him.  Although, the long and winding battle to become cancer free cost Rob his NFL career opportunity, it opened another door that allows him to fulfill his passion – helping and serving others in the rare disease community. Rob is a former rare disease patient, a rare disease survivor and works daily to help strengthen the bond between college football and the rare disease community as the Director of Strategic Development for Uplifting Athletes.

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Patient Groups: American Brain Tumor Association, National Brain Tumor Society, American Cancer Society, Brain Tumor Foundation For Children.

Getting Social: Twitter: @theABTA, @NBTStweets, @AmericanCancer, Facebook: ABTA, braintumorfoundation, AmericanCancerSociety, BTFC.

Learn More: There is currently one FDA approved treatment for Anaplastic Astrocytoma. However, there currently is no cure. For more information, go here. Some of the most well respected resources inside the rare disease community include National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD). A strong patient community to help makes a difference exists through Global Genes.

Weekly Update: Clemson headed back to ACC Championship game for third year in a row after claiming Atlantic Division title with victory over Florida State

WEEK 11 GRAPHICClemson has proven that you can get upset in a regular-season game and still win the National Championship.

That may be the road to doing it again, as the Tigers guaranteed themselves a birth in the ACC Championship game this weekend.

Clemson overcame a less-than-tidy effort, two turnovers and seven penalties, to bump off Florida State and claim the ACC Atlantic Division title for the third consecutive year.

Clemson is headed to Charlotte and the ACC title game for the fifth time in nine years under Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney.

Penn State ended its two-game losing streak behind a record-breaking day from quarterback Trace McSorley in its homecoming victory over Rutgers.

McSorley threw for 214 yards and rushed for another 44 yards. But with his three total touchdowns the redshirt junior became No. 1 on the Penn State list for total touchdowns by a quarterback. The Nittany Lions defense rebounded, limiting the Scarlet Knights to 200 total yards and a pair of field goals.

The Penn State defense held Rutgers without a first down for a 38:45 stretch that started on the first play of the second quarter until 6:45 remained in the game.

Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall did something you’ll be hard pressed to see again – he completed only two passes but finished with 140 yards through the air. And both those completions went for long-distance touchdowns in a victory over previously nationally ranked Virginia Tech.

NC State rebounded from back-to-back losses to highly ranked teams to improve to 7-3 overall by edging Boston College. The Wolfpack used a 50-yard run from Nyheim Hines midway through the final quarter to win it.

Northwestern won its fourth in a row by sliding past Purdue. The big news is the Wildcats claimed this victory in regulation, after winning its previous three outings in overtime.

Syracuse is going to struggle to be bowl eligible after falling to Wake Forest at home. But Orange back-up quarterback Zack Mahoney found he was starting 14 minutes before the game and threw for nearly 400 yards to earn the Uplifting Athletes Rare Performance of the Week.

Penn used 181 rushing yards from Tre Solomon and stingy defense to notch an important road victory at Harvard. Solomon averaged 12.1 yards per carry, while the defense allowed only a pair of field goals to the Crimson.

Stony Brook uses a ball-control offense and relies on being mistake-free to win football games. And that formula played out perfectly against Wagner as the Seawolves improved to 8-2. Stony Brook rushed for nearly 200 yards, won the turnover battle 3-0 and converted third down at nearly a 50 percent clip to notch a four-score victory.


Syracuse Chapter President and QB Zack Mahoney delivers on short notice with 384-yard outing to earn Uplifting Athletes Rare Performance of the Week

Photo by Wasim AhmadIf nothing else, when you are the back-up to Syracuse starter Eric Dungey, you better be ready to play on short notice at all times.

Orange No. 2 signal caller Zack Mahoney has served in that role for the better part of two full seasons, and the 14-minute notice Mahoney received Saturday that he would start did not affect the senior at all.

Mahoney, the President of the Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes, under center does mean the Orange change their offensive mindset. Mahoney fired 60 passes, completing 33 of them for 384 yards and three touchdowns to claim the Uplifting Athletes Rare Performance of the Week honor.

In a wild ACC game at the Carrier Dome that featured more than 1,300 yards of total offense, Syracuse could not keep pace with the Demon Deacons down the stretch and fell 64-43. The Orange led 43-40 going into the final 15 minutes.

This is the third season Mahoney has been the No. 2 quarterback option for Syracuse. He’s attempted nearly 300 passes, thrown for almost 2,000 yards and has 18 career touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

Previous Uplifting Athletes

Rare Performance of the Week Winners

Week 1: RB Josh Adams, Notre Dame

Week 2: QB Ryan Finley, NC State

Week 3: QB Trace McSorley, Penn State

Week 4: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Week 5: WR Ervin Philips, Syracuse

Week 6: QB Chad Kanoff, Princeton

Week 7: QB Eric Dungey, Syracuse

Week 8: WR Jesper Horsted, Princeton

Week 9: QB Clayton Thorson, Northwestern

Week 10: QB Will Fischer-Colbrie, Penn