Beyond The Trophy: Michael Martin, University of Illinois


Heather Coit/The News-Gazette Michael Martin University of Illinois Football Media Day at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Sunday, August 11, 2013.

Name: Michael Martin

College: University of Illinois

Height, weight, class, position: 6-4, 225 pounds, junior, long snapper

High School: Centennial HS Champaign, Ill.

About Michael Martin: A native of Champaign who stayed in his hometown to play college football, Martin is in his full season as the Illini long snapper after handling the duties for all 13 games in 2014. Martin is the Illinois Chapter Vice President and alongside Chapter President Joe Spencer help put together a successful 2015 Lift For Life where the Illini nearly doubled their fundraising efforts. This is the second year the Illini Chapter is holding a Touchdown Pledge Drive for the home game against Middle Tennessee State. Martin is also a legacy at Illinois as both his parents, Gregory and Karen, swam at Illinois. A mechanical engineering major, Martin was an Academic All-Big Ten honoree in 2014.

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

MARTIN: My favorite part about the game day experience is running out of the tunnel before the game. I always run out, find my parents in the stands, and acknowledge them by pointing at them.

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

MARTIN: I got involved with Uplifting Athletes because our chapter was started by Zak Pederson, the long snapper when I was a freshman. I appreciated the motivation of the organization and wanted to get involved for the good it did. The experience has made me more aware of the ability to use the platform of college football for the good of others.

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

MARTIN: My most memorable experience as a college football player was upsetting Minnesota for Homecoming in 2014. Wearing the Gray Ghost uniforms for the first time and having the team come together for a hard fought win is something I will remember forever.

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

MARTIN: I currently am a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. To be honest, what I learn in Mechanical Engineering and what I contribute in Uplifting Athletes are significantly different.

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

MARTIN: I don’t watch anyone in particular, but I always pay close attention to the operation of the punts and field goals of other teams.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

MARTIN: My favorite NFL player was Patrick Mannelly, former long snapper of the Chicago Bears. He was the most tenured Bear in the franchise’s history, but barely anybody knew who he was or what he did because of how well he did it.

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

MARTIN: Washington’s Husky Stadium was a real treat to play in. The facilities and atmosphere were great.

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

MARTIN: After football, I want to have a job that contributes to the well being of others, whether directly or indirectly. Ultimately, I just want to be happy.

Uplifting Athletes Letterman’s Club launched; Rare Disease Champion honored at Maxwell Awards Gala


RDC MAXWELLUplifting Athletes had the pleasure of participating in the 78th Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala this past weekend at The Tropicana Resort in Atlantic City, NJ.

This was the third consecutive year we recognized the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion as part of the Maxwell Awards Gala.

In addition to honoring Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates and his friend McKenzie Ray as the 2015 Rare Disease Champion, Uplifting Athletes also officially launched its Letterman’s Club sponsored by Select Medical Saturday with a three-hour meeting and work session.

UPLIFTING ATHLETES LETTERMAN’S CLUB

The Letterman’s Club has always been part of the vision Uplifting Athletes founder and executive director Scott Shirley had for the organization.

And thanks to the support of Select Medical, the Letterman’s Club is now an official extension of the mission and vision for Uplifting Athletes.

These like-minded and selfless servants who helped lead or start up a Chapter on their respective campus, are committed to continuing to support the rare disease community.

Former college football players from Maryland, Nebraska, Penn State, Princeton and St. Francis joined the Uplifting Athletes team in Atlantic City for the two-day awards gala.

The highlight Thursday night was the Maxwell VIP Reception sponsored by the Uplifting Athletes Letterman’s Club. The attendees enjoyed getting a picture taken in front of the huge step-and-repeat banner prior to dinner.

After Maxwell President and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski welcomed the VIP guests, Shirley and Ray Pennacchia from Select Medical each had a chance to address the audience.

Friday morning the lettermen, Uplifting Athletes staff and Select Medical representatives Amy Ridall and Pennacchia gathered in the Bongo Conference Room at Tropicana for the first Letterman’s Club meeting.

Following introductions, vision casting and lunch, the core members in the room, along with a few lettermen online as part of a Google Hangout, went to work on approving a constitution, planning a 2015 event and electing the first officers.

Obi Egekeze from Maryland was approved as the first president. Chris Borland of Wisconsin and the San Francisco 49ers was voted in as the vice president. And the St. Francis duo of Jake Smith and Jeff Wasilewski were approved as the secretary and treasurer, respectively.

The first Uplifting Athletes Letterman’s Club meeting was adjourned at 2 p.m. sharp in order to allow everybody enough time to get ready for the Maxwell Awards Gala that evening.

2015 RARE DISEASE CHAMPION TROPHY

Being able to honor our Rare Disease Champion as part of the Maxwell Awards Gala, where football is a big priority, has allowed Uplifting Athletes to shine a spotlight on the rare disease community.

This year the story was so personal. The relationship between Coates and Kenzie Ray is way more than just a football player and a little girl fighting for her life with a rare form of leukemia.

Coates and Ray are like a brother and sister and their kinship is only fully revealed when you get to witness them interact first-hand.

So Uplifting Athletes was proud to host Coates, his girlfriend Kailey Rogers and Kenzie’s mom and dad, Keisha and Tommy Ray, at the 2015 Maxwell Awards.

They group flew in from Alabama together and was transported from the Philadelphia airport to Maxwell via a private limo provided by the Maxwell Football Club.

It was the start of a memorable weekend that included the VIP Reception Thursday night and culminated in the presentation of the Rare Disease Champion trophy to Coates with his friend Kenzie right by his side.

Dr. David Fagjenbaum, a rare disease survivor who works at the University of Pennsylvania doing rare disease research, gave the nearly 1,000 Maxwell dinner guests a first-hand account of his fight and introduced Uplifting Athletes.

Following a nearly 5-minute video that gave the audience further insight into the story of Sammie and Kenzie, the duo received a nearly 2-minute standing ovation.

Tommy Ray made it very clear to Uplifting Athletes that his daughter would not have had the will to continue fighting if it wasn’t for her relationship with Sammie.

We are proud to share that Kenzie is doing much better and the Ray family used the experience at Maxwell to reflect on how far they had come in 12 months.

It was a busy two days with plenty of moving parts, but to launch the Letterman’s Club and honor such a deserving Rare Disease Champion the 2015 Maxwell Awards Gala will always be a memorable milestone weekend.

Together … We Are … Stronger!

Former Nebraska fullback C.J. Zimmerer soaks up Maxwell Awards Gala atmosphere as 2014 Rare Disease Champion


Nebraska's C.J. Zimmerer (center) flanked by Maxwell Football Club President Ron Jaworksi and Bednarik Award winner Aaron Donald from Pitt.

Nebraska’s C.J. Zimmerer (center) flanked by Maxwell Football Club President Ron Jaworksi and Bednarik Award winner Aaron Donald from Pitt.

Shortly after landing in Philadelphia Thursday afternoon, former Nebraska fullback C.J. Zimmerer said the only other times he visited the Keystone State was to play Penn State in State College twice.

So instead of heading straight to Atlantic City for the Maxwell Awards Gala that kicked off Thursday evening with a VIP reception, we took a little side tour with Zimmerer and his girlfriend, Kim, to downtown Philadelphia to give them a little taste of the history surrounding the City of Brotherly Love before heading east on the A-C Expressway.

With the Maxwell Football Club moving its awards gala to Revel Resorts this year, there was a fresh feel to this two-day extravaganza celebrating football at all levels by the oldest football club in the country.

“It’s a great honor to come out to an event like this. I’ve heard of the Maxwell Football Club before, but you don’t hear too much about it in the midwest out in Nebraska,” said Zimmerer, who when he checked in thought his hotel room was on the fourth floor of Revel, but discovered it was on the 47th floor of this massive resort and casino.

“So I’ve learned a lot in the couple days I’ve been here about what a big stage this is, and what it means to be honored as the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion at an event like this. It’s national recognition and it’s a great honor for me to be part of it. Being on the east coast is definitely a lot different than Nebraska. I’m just trying to soak it all in as best I can.”

Uplifting Athletes is partners with Maxwell Football Club and uses the stage of this awards gala to not only honor our Rare Disease Champion, but also share the message of how college football players and programs are having an impact and inspiring patients in the rare disease community with hope.

Zimmerer played a major role in the planning of the 69-yard touchdown run by Nebraska fan and pediatric brain cancer survivor Jack Hoffman last April during the Huskers’ spring game in Lincoln.

It was a run that touched the hearts of a nation – simple in its purpose yet massive in its result with more than 8 million views on YouTube – and provided the rare disease of pediatric brain cancer with a national platform.

And although Zimmerer isn’t a recognizable face to the Maxwell Football Club community, when his story is given a platform his recognition is almost instantaneous.

“People here don’t know who I am. But when I mention Team Jack and the touchdown run, it’s synonymous. And they know exactly what I’m talking about,” Zimmerer said. “So it’s great to be able to share with them how Uplifting Athletes was a part of that and how big something little like that can become big and spread the word across the country about helping those in the rare disease community.”

Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Scott Shirley and Nebraska's C.J. Zimmerer at Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala inside Revel Resorts.

Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Scott Shirley and Nebraska’s C.J. Zimmerer at Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala inside Revel Resorts.

Zimmerer will be presented his trophy as the 2014 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion live Friday night on ESPN3 starting at 8:30 p.m. Former Boston College and current New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich, whose likeness is the inspiration for the trophy, is in Atlantic City to present the award to Zimmerer live to a worldwide audience.

The entire Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala will be broadcast on ESPN3. We are not exactly sure what time Zimmerer and Herzlich will take center stage Friday night, but it will be sometime between 8:30-10 p.m.

Sneak Peak at Gridiron Gala Silent Auction Items – Bid Now!


The Uplifting Athletes Gridiron Gala is just hours away and we’re busy displaying the items for this year’s silent auction. With some of the best items we’ve ever had to offer, we want to give you ALL the opportunity to place a bid, even if you cannot attend the gala.

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Take a look at the awesome list of items below, decide on your maximum bid (remember, it all goes to support Uplifting Athletes!) and email info@upliftingathletes.org to secure your spot. NOTE: All bids must be received by 7:00pm ET to count!

1. The Spa Hershey

Description: Spa Rain Shower, Chocolate sugar scrub, or hydrating body wrap and a 50 minute Cocoa Massage

Minimum Bid: $100

2. Chocolate Basket

Description: Luxurious Carmina-Cristina makeup products and Marcis Chocolates Basket

Minimum Bid: $70

3. Downtown Harrisburg Date Night

Description: (4) Tickets for Theatre Harrisburg Mainstage productions “Sweeny Todd” or “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” and $50 gift card to Stocks on 2nd

Minimum Bid: $50

4. Weekend Getaway

Description: Wyndham Gettysburg Accomodations for two nights and breakfast for 2 in 1863 each morning

Minimum Bid: $50

5. Harrisburg Senators single game dugout suite rental and “swag bag”

Description: One single game dugout suite rental, Jordan Zimmerer bobblehead, Christian Garcia autographed baseball, 2013 team poster, Senators t-shirt and visor, 2 senators player posters, 2 rascal cereal bowls.

Minimum Bid: $250

6. Philadelphia Flyers Jersey

Description: Autographed by Claude Giroux

Minimum Bid: $200

7. Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Stick

Description: Autographed by Scott Hartnell

Minimum Bid: $50

8.  Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins Jersey

Description: Autographed by the 2013-2014 team

Minimum Bid: $100

9. Hershey Bear Autographed Photos

Description: Autographed by Philipp Grubaur

Minimum Bid: $50

10. Washington Wizards Basketball

Description: Autographed by Bradley Beal

Minimum Bid: $25

11. Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Puck

Description: Autographed by Scott Hartnell

Minimum Bid: $40

12. Hershey Bears Hockey Puck

Description: Autographed by Philipp Grubaur

Minimum Bid: $25

13. Washington Capitals Jersey

Description: Autographed by the 2013-2014 team

Minimum Bid: $250

14. Washington Wizards Jersey

Description: Autographed by the 2013-2014 team

Minimum Bid: $100

15. Philadelphia 76ers Jersey

Description: Autographed by Thaddeus Young

Minimum Bid: $75

16. Boomer Esiason Ball

Description: Autographed by Boomer Esiason

Minimum Bid: $100

17. Cincinnati Bengals Autographed Jersey

Description: Autographed by Boomer Esiason

Minimum Bid: $250

18. Cincinnati Bengals Helmet

Description: Autographed by Boomer Esiason

Minimum Bid: $250

19.  Jacksonville Jaguars Jersey (adult XL)

Description: Autographed by Paul Posluszny

Minimum Bid: $200

20. Philadelphia Eagles Autographed Jersey

Description: Autographed by Fletcher Cox

Minimum Bid: $250

21. Philadelphia Eagles Autographed Helmet

Description: Autographed by DeSean Jackson

Minimum Bid: $300

22. Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Tickets

Description: Friday May 30th, vs New York Mets (4) Hall of Fame club tickets Section 223, row 7, seats 1-4 and reserved Parking Pass

Minimum Bid: $200

23. Hershey Park

Description: (4) one-day admission passes

Minimum Bid: $100

Again, if you are interested in bidding on any of these items and cannot attend the gala, please reference the auction item and submit your highest bid to info@upliftingathletes.org by 7:00pm ET tonight!

Together…WE ARE…stronger!

In support of Rare Disease Day on February 28, Uplifting Athletes shares inspirational stories from road in 2013


On the road at Florida State with Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Scott Shirley.

On the road at Florida State with Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Scott Shirley.

Uplifting Athletes supports the rare disease community by using college football as a platform to help and inspire those battling a rare disease with hope.

As a national organization with 20 chapters on college campuses spread throughout the country, travel to support our bigger mission in the rare disease community is part of what we do.

The time on the road interacting with college football players and leaders on their home turf and seeing first-hand what they are doing to support rare diseases is inspiring and motivating.

With Rare Disease Day around the corner on February 1, members of our 2013 staff shared some of their experiences on the road.

Scott Shirley and Becky Mayes went zipped all around the country in 2013 including stops in Arizona, Texas, Nebraska, Florida and New York City, for example. And while each trip has its own successes and challenges, those special ones leave a lasting impression.

These are their stories from the road.

Mayes took a trip our Nebraska Chapter in September for the Huskers’ Pediatric Brain Cancer Game against South Dakota State.

MAYES: The Chapter at Nebraska focuses on and raises research funds for pediatric brain cancer in honor of Jack Hoffman, a now famous 7-year-old, who was diagnosed with a form of pediatric brain cancer just two years ago.

As part of pediatric brain cancer month, Nebraska’s Chapter decided to highlight their cause at the South Dakota State football game – a university where Jack’s parents happen to be graduates.

FB vs SDSU SB19163

Children battling pediatric brain cancer join the Huskers on their Red Carpet Walk before their game on September 21, 2013.

If you’ve never been to a football game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, game day there is always special. But September 21 will be a day that I will never forget.

Families from Nebraska and the surrounding areas who have been affected by pediatric brain cancer were all invited as special guests. The Huskers went to the nines making sure these families had a fantastic experience – and making sure they knew they were not in this fight alone.

Before kickoff, Nebraska’s former Chapter President was recognized for being selected to the All-State Good Works Team because his work with Uplifting Athletes. The families present lined the field during the presentation and helped thank him for his work.

Following the presentation was something every Nebraskan looks forward to on game day – the red carpet walk.

Every family had a representative join the Huskers as they walked down the red carpet and onto the field performing a sacred tradition in Nebraska.

During the game, Nebraska featured their Chapter’s efforts on the video board and thanked all of the families in attendance. Rex Burkhead, who won our 2012 Rare Disease Champion award for being the catalyst behind Nebraska’s fight against pediatric brain cancer, sent in a video of support for his alma mater and wished Jack Hoffman a happy birthday since it was coming up in two days.

The student section did not miss a beat and sung “Happy Birthday” to Jack who has since been deemed cancer free.

What touched me the most, though, came before the game. On Saturday morning, I had the opportunity to meet all of the families in attendance and hear their stories.

The stories were heart wrenching. One family’s son had passed away just two weeks prior. Another family had lost their son a year before.

Pediatric brain cancer is deadly. It is not a diagnosis you would ever want to receive. And unfortunately for many, it is a death sentence.

But these families were not filled with sorrow – they were full of hope.

There were tens of thousands of people with them that day, standing beside them, supporting them through the battle and 100 men on the field fighting for more than a victory over South Dakota State.

Spending time with these amazing people made me realize even more what an impact these Chapters have on so many lives. Together, we have been able to give the 30 million Americans currently battling a rare disease, and their families, support and the knowledge that they are not fighting alone – there is an army behind them.

Shirley is the Executive Director of Uplifting Athletes, and has spent more time interacting with members of the expanded Uplifting Athletes family than anyone.

SHIRLEY: Every trip is memorable for different reasons. There are many moments that are probably “Reality TV” worthy like when I decided to save money on a hotel in Waco, Texas by staying up to celebrate a big win with my good friends at Baylor and drove straight to airport in Dallas, about 3 hours away.

About halfway to Dallas I realized that was a bad idea and slept in my rental car at a gas station from 3 a.m.-4 a.m. … then raced to the airport to catch the first flight to Philadelphia only to learn that you cannot fly standby more than 6 hours before your scheduled departure.

The trip that stands out the most, though, was the visit to Tallahassee, Florida

Florida State was my favorite team as a kid and I was recruited there in high school.  Even though I am a proud Nittany Lion today, there is still something I enjoy about the Seminoles’ brand.

What made this trip unique was that those two often conflicting sentiments seemed to finally align when a Penn State transfer, Kevin Haplea, successfully started a chapter of Uplifting Athletes at Florida State.

Kevin’s experience with Uplifting Athletes at Penn State laid the groundwork for his new teammates to rally around Coach Jimbo Fisher’s youngest son Ethan, who is battling Fanconi anemia.

What I did not expect was how well versed his coaches and administrators were with our program.  Shortly after I arrived on campus (after driving up from a visit in Miami) I realized that they were treating me like a recruit rather than the other way around.

Kevin introduced me to their strength coach, compliance officer (who knew all about us from his time at Maryland), sports information director, athletic trainer, coaches and teammates.

I even got to meet with Coach Fisher, his wife Candi and their son Ethan (see photo above), two hours before kickoff in his office. They even allowed me to join the team for lunch and gave me a baseball cap.

During pregame, I was able to visit with our chapter leaders from North Carolina State and introduce them to Kevin. Then the Seminoles’ mascot rode out on his horse with the flaming spear and handed it legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden to stake in the ground.

Watching the game from the sidelines gave me a chance to meet many of the players that were excited about getting involved with Uplifting Athletes.

Overall it was the great introduction to a group of players who realized the position they were in to make a difference in the lives of rare disease patients.

Fall Camp Underway at Colgate


I hope this message finds you well. I apologize for the brief recess from updates. I spent my summer in Hamilton, interning with the athletic department and training with the team. We reported for Fall Camp this past Sunday, August, 4th.

This was my third summer living in Hamilton and it was easily the most unique. Former strength coach, Gabe Harrington, honorably left our program for personal reasons on June 30th. Due to NCAA regulations, we had the week of the 4th of July off, and workouts started up again on July 8th under the supervision of interim strength coach, LiAaron White.

Coach Li picked up where Coach Gabe left off. However, Li’s workouts pushed us farther out of our comfort zones than Gabe ever did, and the results were immediate. Two weeks after Coach Li took over, Coach Paul Helsel began shadowing our workouts. “Coach P” took over the following week as our permanent head strength coach.

Coach P has over 20 years of experience as a Division I strength coach, and comes to us from a five year tenure at Old Dominion University. Coach P continued with Coach Gabe’s training program because, as he put it, “the hay is in the barn.” It is clear that Coach P is a very intelligent coach, and I am excited for him to implement his own strength program.

With our third practice in the books (which was our first in shoulder pads), Fall Camp is officially under way. Our veteran players quickly shook off the rust and are looking like the defending Patriot League Champs. Our first class of scholarship freshmen are learning quickly, but it is still too early to tell which of them will contribute this fall.

Sophomore running backs James Travellin, John Wilkins and Demetrius Russel are all fighting for the starting job, which is wide open after the graduation of All-American tailback, Jordan McCord. Junior Spencer Wallach, and Sophomores John Weber and Zac Sawin are proving to be valid replacements on our offensive line. Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, Gavin McCarney, is visibly making the rest of the offense grow up quickly. Expect another big year from number 7.

Senior safety Dimitri Diamond, junior cornerback Mike Armiento, and junior linebacker Kris Kent are emerging as the leaders of our defense. Kris was second on the team in tackles last season at a light 195 pounds; he showed up to camp at an athletic 212. Newcomer to the defensive line, senior Bobby Stup, has been causing problems in our backfield all week. In no pads, Bobby has a bit of an advantage over our offensive tackles, being that they have nothing to grab onto. If he keeps up his tenacious pass rush in live situations, expect to see him in our opponents’ backfields all fall.

Our first day of full pads is this Friday, followed by our first two-a-day on Saturday. I will send a more detailed update midway through camp as starters begin to emerge. We’ll see which freshmen shake out to be Colgate Raiders once we start bangin’ on Friday.

James Decicco Headshot

Enjoy what’s left of your summer. I’ll be in touch! G.A.T.A!!!

Go ‘Gate!!

Jimmy DeCicco ’15
Colgate University Football
President Uplifting Athletes
Vice President S.A.A.C.

July is Uplifting Athletes’ Bowl Season with Nine Events in 14 days


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There’s still a month before college football jumps to the center of the stage in the sports world.

Before that stage gets crowded, several college football teams are taking time in July to join the fight against rare diseases through Uplifting Athletes.

Nine events in 14 days starting Thursday, July 11 in South Carolina and ending with a pair of events July 25 at North Carolina State and Syracuse.

One of eight new chapters that formed in 2013, South Carolina kicks off this two-week blitz with the Gamecocks’ inaugural Lift For Life.

Notre Dame will hold its first event three days later on Sunday July 14 when the Fighting Irish hit the bowling lanes to raise funds and awareness for the rare disease osteosarcoma.

In between this pair of first-time events is the charter Uplifting Athletes chapter, Penn State University, pulling together for its 11th Lift For Life.

The Nittany Lions are closing in $1 million raised for kidney cancer research through Uplifting Athletes.

In a four-day span, one seasoned Uplifting Athletes event with a pair of first-time events as bookends kicks off Uplifting Athletes’ college football postseason.

“This weekend personifies our Together We Are Stronger tagline,” said Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Scott Shirley, who will be in South Carolina Thursday and at Penn State Friday.

“It is energizing to work with different teams that are all unique yet have so much in common. South Carolina is introducing Uplifting Athletes to their fans and the SEC Conference. And Notre Dame is hosting a brand new event while Penn State is closing in on their first million dollars … all in the fight again rare diseases.”

Two other new chapters in 2013 will also be holding events in July. Wisconsin will hold a Lift For Life on July 23, followed by Syracuse two days later.

The Nebraska Chapter has already brought a ton of awareness, dollars and education for pediatric brain cancer through Team Jack. But inaugural Nebraska Athletics-Uplifting Athletes Road Race on July 21 is the first official event for the Huskers’ chapter.

Fordham will hold its second Lift For Life on July 24. On the same day, Northwestern will hold its third lift. And finally on July 25, North Carolina State will close out this events blitz with its second Lift For Life.

To learn more about Uplifting Athletes or what our chapters are doing, visit: www.upliftingathletes.org. If you want to donate to any team participating in a Lift For Life event visit: www.liftforlife.upliftingathletes.org