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!


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.

Illinois Chapter fifth annual Lift For Life one for the record books

ILLINI LFL 2For the third and final time, Joe Spencer ran point as the Illinois Chapter President for the Fighting Illini’s annual Lift For Life event last Friday inside Memorial Stadium.

Lift For Life is the signature fundraising event for the Uplifting Athletes nationwide network of college football student-athlete led chapters.

Only two years young when Spencer, an offensive lineman from Ohio, assumed the role of president, the Illinois Chapter has enjoyed steady growth each of the last three years.

This was the fifth Illinois Chapter Lift For Life, and it raised a record nearly $22,000 in support of the rare disease community through Uplifting Athletes.

“Overall, this Lift For Life turned out to be one of the best for our chapter,” said Spencer, who during his tenure as Illinois Chapter President helped raise more than $45,000.

“This is a tribute to the hard work put in by our team the past few weeks as well as the Illini community for getting behind this amazing cause.”

The Illini Chapter continued its mission of using college football as a platform to inspire the rare disease community with hope through the power of sport.

One of the more colorful events on the Uplifting Athletes Lift For Life event circuit, the Illini divided up into eight teams and competed in events like the 700-pound tire flip and 225-pound bench press among others.

The Red Team comprised of Altan Aldemir, Desmond Cain, Chunky Clements, Nathan Echard, Ryan Frain, Ahmari Hayes, Kenyon Jackson, Gabe Megginson, Patrick Nelson, Ryan Tuckerand and Tyler White came out on top.

“We would like to thank everyone who came out to our event and to all those who donated to our cause,” Spencer said. “Raising nearly $22,00 is an amazing achievement and it will go far in helping those who affected by rare diseases.”

The Illinois Chapter started tackling rare diseases in 2012 when it joined Uplifting Athletes. The student-athlete led Illinois Chapter serves the rare disease community in honor of Andrew Carter, a former Illini offensive lineman who battled the rare disease acoustic neuroma in 2011.

Carter is now a rare disease survivor but he unfortunately never played football again.

The challenges faced by the rare disease community are bigger than any one individual, team or organization can tackle alone. The grassroots effort of the Illinois Chapter, along with a nationwide network of teams, is uniquely positioned to educate and engage the local community and shine a spotlight on rare diseases.

“As my tenure as President comes to an end I would like to thank all of my teammates and the Illini community for what they have helped turn our chapter into,” Spencer said. “My time as President has been a blessing and I look forward to a continued relationship with Uplifting Athletes and the rare disease community.

“Together We Are Stronger!”

WCIA Channel 3 Lift For Life Video

Illinois Champaign Room Lift For Life Story

WAND Channel 17 Lift For Life Video

Lift For Life Photo Gallery (Courtesy The Daily Illini)

Photo Gallery (Courtesy of Craig Pessman)


Annual Uplifting Athletes Leadership Retreat sees a record 31 student-athletes attend

UA-Retreat-2016Each spring Uplifting Athletes brings together the student-athlete leaders from our Chapter network across the country for a weekend of training and camaraderie guided by the Uplifting Athletes staff.

This year the eighth annual Leadership Retreat took place in late May at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago and featured a record 31 student-athletes from 17 Uplifting Athletes Chapters.

Student-athletes representing Arizona, Clemson, Colgate, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Northern Arizona, Maryland, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn, Princeton, Penn State, Purdue, St. Francis, Stony Brook, Syracuse, and Washington.

“It was a great retreat, and we all learned a lot,” said Princeton Chapter leader Zachary Kuehm, a junior offensive lineman from New Jersey. “Being at the retreat really opened my eyes even more to the great cause that we all are fighting for.

“And it is truly unique to see so many dedicated athletes band together to fight rare diseases.”

The weekend kicked off with the student-athletes traveling in from all over the country Friday afternoon followed by a getting acquainted dinner with the Uplifting Athletes staff and members of the NCAA Compliance team.

Put through their paces by the four members of the Uplifting Athletes staff, Saturday was an intense day of learning and training on the finer points of being a chapter leader.

The Saturday sessions included an Uplifting Athletes overview from Executive Director and Founder Scott Shirley, chapter event planning with Becky Mayes, communications and how to tell your story with Andy Shay and chapter marketing and social media with Mark Mihalik.

Also included in the Saturday programming was an athletics department overview by Brian Baptiste, a Deputy Director of Athletics at Northwestern. And Uplifting Athletes Letterman Zak Pedersen, who founded the Illinois Chapter, stopped by to share his experience and talked about life after college football.

“The leadership retreat was really an awesome experience,” said Penn Chapter President Sam Tullman. “Not only were there a number of presentations with truly valuable takeaways, but more importantly, there was an air of creativity, collaboration and excitement.

“The connections made to other upstanding individuals are something I cherish, and something I see developing into fruitful relationships.”

Before the student-athletes hit the road Sunday afternoon, Mayes went over the nuts and bolts of running a Touchdown Pledge Drive, an open discussion session on getting teammates involved and wrapped up the weekend with a work session on the path forward and the next steps.

In prior years the annual Leadership Retreat was pretty much limited to the east coast in terms of geography. Last year, Uplifting Athletes held two retreats – in Harrisburg and Chicago.

This was the first time it was a held exclusively in Chicago and getting more than 30 student-athletes leaders all together provided a vehicle for learning and sharing that will ultimately greatly benefit the rare disease community.

“The Leadership Retreat was awesome. Getting to know college football players from all around the country was very special,” said Clemson Chapter President and punter Andy Teasdall. “We are in a unique position as leaders to share our Uplifting Athletes college football story and life experiences about serving and helping those with rare diseases.”


Illinois Chapter Lift For Life set for July 1 inside Memorial Stadium


Each Uplifting Athletes Lift For Life event put on by one of our Chapters has its own unique touch.

The Illinois Chapter has established a tradition of being one of the more unique teams when it comes to attire, team names and overall theme for its event.

And this year will be no different.

The Illinois Chapter of Uplifting Athletes will hold its annual Lift For Life event on Friday, July 1 inside Memorial Stadium.

Lift For Life is the signature fundraising event for the Uplifting Athletes nationwide network of college football student-athlete led chapters.

The Illini Chapter will continue its mission of using college football as a platform to inspire the rare disease community with hope through the power of sport. This will be the fifth Illinois Chapter Lift For Life as part of Uplifting Athletes.

Fans are encouraged to come out and support the 2016 Illini football team as they help bring the vision of Uplifting Athletes to life; which is to empower people to take action against rare diseases and inspires the medical community to find cures.

One of the more colorful Uplifting Athletes Lift for Life events, the Illinois Chapter will continue its tradition of dividing the Lift For Life competition and fundraising into eight teams.

In order to support the Illinois Chapter and help the Illini reach their $20,000 Lift For Life goal, visit the Illinois Chapter fundraising site. To find your favorite Illini player and support his team, click one of the eight teams set up on the Illini fundraising site.

The challenges faced by the rare disease community are bigger than any one individual, team or organization can tackle alone. The grassroots effort of the Illinois Chapter, along with a nationwide network of teams, is uniquely positioned to educate and engage the local community and shine a spotlight on rare diseases.

The Illinois Chapter started tackling rare diseases in 2012 when it joined Uplifting Athletes. The student-athlete led Illinois Chapter serves the rare disease community in honor of Andrew Carter, a former Illini offensive lineman who battled the rare disease acoustic neuroma in 2011.

Carter is a rare disease survivor but never played football again. He is, though, still a strong supporter of the Illinois Chapter. Each summer since leaving campus, Carter returns to Champaign for the Illinois Lift For Life event.

Please consider helping the Illinois Chapter of Uplifting Athletes tackle rare diseases.




Beyond The Trophy: Joe Spencer, University of Illinois


Each week during the college football season Uplifting Athletes will highlight one of its student-athlete chapter leaders with an in-depth Q&A.

Name: Joe Spencer

College: University of Illinois

Height, weight, class, position: 6-4, 300, sophomore, offensive line

High School: Mason, Ohio

About Joe Spencer: Came to the Illini from Ohio after a solid high school career where he made second-team All-State and was a member of the Ohio Big 33 squad. After using his redshirt as a freshman in 2012, Spencer managed to play in eight games and started two of those last season as a sophomore. The Uplifting Athletes Illinois Chapter President, Spencer is a business major who was an academic All-Big Ten honoree last season.

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

SPENCER: My favorite part of game day at Memorial Stadium is singing “Hail to the Orange” with our band and student sections after every Illinois victory.

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

SPENCER: What drove me to get involved in Uplifting Athletes was the opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the research of a rare disease that affect a friend and teammate of mine, Andrew Carter. My experience with Uplifting Athletes has shown the ways that being a college football can not only benefit yourself but also help those around you for a greater good.

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

SPENCER: As a college football player my most memorable experience so far in my career has been my first career start in 2013 against Southern Illinois. Playing for the first time is an experience and feeling that I will never be able to replicate again in my life.

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

SPENCER: The toughest team we face on the regular would be Ohio State. The reason for this is because during my time of playing college football they have had one of the best defensive lines in the country and each time we play them it always provides a tough test.

What is your chosen major, and what if anything have you used from that major as a contribution to your Uplifting Athletes Chapter?

SPENCER: My chosen major is Finance. This major has helped me contribute to our chapter of Uplifting Athletes because it has given me perspective and insight on the monetary side of putting on a Lift for Life as well as for raising money for acoustic neuroma.

Besides one of your teammates, name a college football player you enjoy watching?

SPENCER: One college football player I enjoy watching is Todd Gurley a running back on Georgia. He is a special athlete who always seems to be making plays all over the field.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

SPENCER: My favorite NFL player is AJ Green. The reason for this is because is he the best player on my favorite team, the Cincinnati Bengals.

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

SPENCER: My favorite road stadium to play in is Ohio Stadium. The reason for this is because I am from Ohio so when we play there a large amount of my family and friends are able to attend the game which makes it a special environment for me.

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

SPENCER: Some things that I am looking forward to in life after football is taking all of the traits that I have gained through playing football and applying them to a successful career in the business world. Along with this I hope to be able to travel to Europe and to see what tailgating a football game is like since I have always been playing on game day.