At Penn State Chapter young leaders get involved with Uplifting Athletes

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Penn State football student-athletes involved with Uplifting Athletes will provide periodic updates on the activities and happenings of the Nittany Lions’ chapter in 2014. They will also share some of their thoughts on the Penn State experience, community service, leadership and life. Freshman quarterback Michael O’Connor, who enrolled early at Penn State, authored the initial entry.

Penn State freshman quarterback Michael O'Connor on first day of spring practice. (Photo courtesy Joe Hermitt/

Penn State freshman quarterback Michael O’Connor on first day of spring practice. (Photo courtesy Joe Hermitt/

I grew up in Ottawa, Canada before moving to Tennessee my junior year of high school to follow my dream of playing NCAA Division I college football.

After my junior year, I transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, a sports academy where I could continue to develop as a football player. I committed to Penn State, after taking two visits, because I fell in love with the school and community.

Once I arrived on campus I was introduced to Uplifting Athletes. It’s a great organization that gives guys like us, college football student-athletes, the chance to give back and make a difference in the lives of the people in the rare disease community.

I feel that it is so important to give back to your community because it helps provide a fresh perspective on the importance of our actions and the effects that they have.

Every one of us is capable of making a difference in somebody’s life, and we all should be encouraged help others. Uplifting Athletes provides Penn State football players an amazing opportunity to do just that. I am honored to give another loud and strong voice to the kidney cancer community.

My initial interactions with Uplifting Athletes and the kidney cancer community have already made a real impact on my life, inspiring me to continue moving forward when faced with difficult circumstances.

Seeing the struggles that people who have been touched by rare diseases go through, and understanding the impact that we can make, is inspiring to me and my teammates.

I am really excited to see Uplifting Athletes, and my role in it, continue to grow throughout my career.

For more information about the Uplifting Athletes Penn State Chapter send an email to:

Click here if you would like to make a donation to Uplifting Athletes Penn State Chapter.

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

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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.

Harrisburg Magazine’s “Simply The Best”

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A lot of people ask why Uplifting Athletes is headquartered in Harrisburg, PA.  There are a number of strategic reasons for that decision: 17 target colleges within a 6 hour driving radius, access to major markets, low cost of living and high quality of life.  One benefit we may have underestimated was the potential to partner with the Harrisburg business community and build something that has a national impact.

Every spring, Harrisburg Magazine highlights businesses that local residents consider “Simply The Best.”  We want to invite you to say THANK YOU to our partners by taking a few minutes to cast a vote for them (and us).  Online voting is open until April 1 and you can access it HERE.  Please consider our recommendations below:

Cleanlieness Is Next To…
Car Wash: Shuler’s All Pro Car Wash

Feelin’ Groovy
Facial: Carmina Cristina
Gym/Health Club: CrossFit Pneuma

Get Outta Here
Hotel: Harrisburg Hilton

In The Stars
Columnist/Journalist: Andy Shay, Patriot News
Jazz Artist: Jazz Me Band

Keepin’ Sick at Bay
Family Doctor: Annville Family Medicine
Health Insurance Company: United Concordia
Hospital: Pinnacle Health

Live To Eat
Candy Store: Macris Chocolates
Supermarket: GIANT Food Stores

Money In Your Pocket
Bank: Susquehanna Bank
Credit Union: AmeriChoice FCU
Tax Accountant: BSSF (Brown, Schultz, Sheridan & Fritz)

Not Easy Bein’ Green
Landscaper: Utopian Landscapes

On The Air
Radio Station: 99.3 Kiss FM
Radio Morning Show: WTPA Morning Show with Bob Waters

Out and About
Museum: State Museum of Pennsylvania
Tourist Attraction: Harrisburg Senators

Out to Lunch…and Dinner
Beer List: MoMo’s BBQ Grill
Sandwich (Local): MoMo’s BBQ Grill
Downtown: Stock’s on 2nd
Overall Dining: Stock’s on 2nd

Rollin, Rollin. Rollin
Auto Dealer: Bob Ruth Ford

Save the World
Black-tie Charity Ball: Uplifting Athletes Gridiron Gala
Themed Fundraiser: Uplifting Athletes TV Tailgate & BBQ Cookoff
Volunteer Organization: Uplifting Athletes

Swallow That
Beer Distributor: Wilsbach Distributors
Local Beer: Baldy Beard Brewing Company
Pennsylvania Wine: The Vineyard at Hershey

Takin’ Care of Business
Law Firm: Rhoads & Sinon
Portrait Photography: Dennis Baker Photo

Tying the Knot
Caterer: JDK Catering
Entertainment: Mixed-Up Productions
Limousine Service: At Your Service Limo
Rental Items: JDK Catering
Wedding Photography: Paul V Photography

Under Roof
Homebuilder: Farinelli Construction

Thank you for taking time to support our partners with your vote!

Here is a list of additional Partners/Sponsors who do not fit into Harrisburg Magazine “Simply The Best” categories:

Shire Pharmaceuticals
We Work For Health
Greenlee Partners LLC
Daflure Heating, Cooling & Solar

Maxwell Football Club
Media Barn Inc
Pavone Advertising
Bravo Group
Lamar Advertising
Hanlon Sculpture Studio
Harrisburg University
Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District
Hershey Bears
Fight On State

Together…We Are… Stronger!

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

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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.


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 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 by 7:00pm ET tonight!

Together…WE ARE…stronger!

Rare Disease Day 2014

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A big part of our mission at Uplifting Athletes is awareness. Our college football chapters across the country help their chosen rare disease in so many ways, but getting the word out is part of why these young men do what they do.

Today, February 28, is Rare Disease Day. And we pause to salute and inspire the nearly 30 millions Americans battling one of 7,000 rare diseases across the country.

As for the other 364 days of the year, member of the Uplifting Athletes family tree continue to bring the fight against rare diseases to a nationwide audience.

Our chapters on 20 college campuses across the country continue to strengthen the marriage between college football and the rare disease community.

In the last two months alone the Syracuse Chapter held a push-up challenge, Penn State’s Chapter put together a successful Kids Combine and Florida State held a Touchdown Pledge Drive for the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn.

And Wisconsin and South Carolina squared off on the field for the Capital One Bowl. So each Uplifting Athletes Chapter held a Touchdown Pledge Drive in conjunction with the bowl game appearance.

In 2013 Uplifting Athletes had its biggest and busiest year ever. More of our chapters held events than in any previous year. Our Lift For Life season during the summer was non-stop.

Each of our 2013 Uplifting Athletes events, Gridiron Gala, TV Tailgate, AmeriChoice Golf Outing, Liberty Mutual Golf Outing and Highmark Walk For Life was bigger and better.

And in support of Team UA, we held our first GORUCK Challenge and raised nearly $25,000 in support of the rare disease community.

Our partnership with the Maxwell Football Club in support of our annual Rare Disease Champion continues to expand and grow. Nebraska fullback C.J. Zimmerer is our 2014 winner and will be honored at the Maxwell Awards Gala later in March for his tireless support of pediatric brain cancer.

We continue to add news schools with each passing month.  Recently Clemson, Baylor and Georgetown each either were recognized as official Uplifting Athletes Chapters, or the necessary paperwork is pending.

All this allowed Uplifting Athletes to double the amount invested in rare disease research from, jumping from $152,478 in 2012 to $311,885 as part of a memorable 2013.

To everyone involved with Uplifting Athletes, to everyone participating in various Rare Disease Day events, to all our supporters and corporate sponsors we would like to say thank you. Together, we will make a difference in the lives of 30 million Americans. Together…We Are…Stronger!

Relationships built by Uplifting Athletes on the road expand the support for the rare disease community year-round

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NORTHWESTERN 1Uplifting 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 28, members of our 2013 staff shared some of their experiences on the road in continued year-round support of the rare disease community.

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, the relationship building and message each hears has a profound impact on the core values and mission of Uplifting Athletes.

There’s no better place to learn first-hand the impact these leaders in college football are having in their community than getting on campus.

So Shirley and Mayes hit the road during the college football season to get some face time with our chapter leaders, and also help craft a bigger and stronger platform for Uplifting Athletes at each individual school.

The formula is working. Uplifting Athletes more than doubled the amount of money it donated in 2013 for rare disease research compared to 2012.

SHIRLEY: It helps me stay connected with today’s student-athlete. I wore their shoes/cleats so I “get it.”  But 10 years have passed and I would be naive to assume that their college experience is the same.

We want to enhance it as much as possible so they can find success and continue to give back.

Two contradicting response that I always hear are (a) why wouldn’t everyone do this? and (b) things are different here so we can’t do this.

What we’ve found is that if the players want to do it…Uplifting Athletes will succeed no matter how different they are.

One of the most important connections that I can make on a campus visit is actually with the players’ parents.  Maybe it’s because my parents were public educators, but I believe that “interested parents” wield a lot of influence.

Tailgating at college football games just happen to be a great opportunity to visit with them and share our story.  It is usually a good time to walk through the halls of the athletic facility and introduce myself to anyone that will take a minute to shake my hand.

Ultimately, if there is an opportunity to get in front of a group of football student-athletes (or even address the entire team)…the excitement can build pretty quickly.

IMG_1340MAYES: Creating and maintaining strong relationships with the universities we work with is a huge focus of ours. We want to not only give our chapters the tools they need to succeed but also provide support.

For many of the chapter leaders we work with, they have never knocked on a compliance officer’s door or talked to someone in marketing. We are able to help guide those relationships and help create powerful networks at each university.

Being located in a central office – a long drive or flight away from many of the schools we work with – means that we typically get to only meet face to face two or three times a year.

It really does help to know who is on the end of your phone call or email and spend time learning more about them.

We really do want to get to know each of the schools we work with and find out how we can best help them to accomplish the same mission of excelling both on and off the field.

As the one responsible for all of our Chapters at Uplifting Athletes, traveling in the fall to as many schools as possible is extremely important.

Although our organization is expanding rapidly, we continue to have a strong focus on building relationships.

There is no way we would be where we are today without spending time on all of the relationships we have with the universities with which we work.

Being able to have players, coaches and administration familiar with the Uplifting Athletes staff is a huge help to all parties.

For people who have heard about Uplifting Athletes, they always respond that they cannot believe what current football players have done to make an impact for or in honor of a player, coach, family member or fan.

WISCONSIN 1When I come across people who have not heard about Uplifting Athletes, they also tend to respond in the same way – that they cannot believe what these guys are doing.

People understand the time commitment that comes along with playing competitive college football.

And yet I find they are almost always impressed that current players are putting time and effort into a cause that they believe in even though it may not even directly affect them.

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

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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.

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