Over the coming days and weeks I will be sharing a series of posts that tell the story of Uplifting Athletes–a charitable effort that grew out of the personal tragedy of losing my father, Don Shirley, a respected role model and community hero. In writing these posts, I hope that I might be able to share personal insight into the hurdles that had to be cleared before the growth of Uplifting Athletes could begin. I encourage you to share your own thoughts and experiences with me as I relive this journey.
Our “Aha” Moment
The following summer, the same group of guys got back to work. We were moving the event from the weight room into Holuba Hall to accommodate more fans. It was bigger and better in every way. More participants, more volunteers, more money. Kidney cancer patients were calling Deloris to share their stories and to thank us for inspiring them. We even registered Lift For Life as a student organization to provide some continuity in the program, as it was our last summer in State College. We wanted to ensure that the event would always be run by the current players so they could enjoy the same benefits.
One evening after the event, Dave and I were writing thank- you notes with the help of another volunteer, Carrie Konosky, from the Lionettes Dance Team. It was getting late, and we were laughing about the fact that we had raised more than $50,000 for the Kidney Cancer Association but we had never actually met anyone from the organization. We discussed going to visit its office in Chicago, but when the three of us looked at our calendars, the only weekend that we were all available started the next day. So I called the KCA’s director of development and asked if staff members would be around. She said they would but sounded frantic and asked if she could call back. Meanwhile, we all called our parents to let them know we were heading to Chicago. When the KCA called back, we were told the organization was holding its biggest patient conference of the year. We thought it was perfect, but staff members were afraid they wouldn’t get to spend any quality time with us.
Our decision-making process continued on our way to the airport to price flights. Sure enough, last-minute airfare from State College to Chicago was not an option. Turns out that a rental car was. We took a big old Buick from the rental lot back to our apartments. Dave and I did some laundry, and we hit the road around midnight. Mapquest said it was only a lO-hour drive.
About an hour outside of Chicago, the KCA called to see if we were still coming. Fresh off a rest-stop nap in Indiana, we explained that our ETA was around noon. Our timing was perfect, because that’s when the keynote speaker was scheduled to present, and he was no longer able to make it. I was asked to fill in.
I jumped in the backseat, plugged my laptop into my cell phone and started downloading some pictures to build a PowerPoint presentation. We pulled up to the curb, the valet took our car, and the three of us were ushered right up to the stage. The funny thing is, we still had not met anyone from the KCA yet.
The next five or 10 minutes were among the best of my life. We were interrupted three times by standing ovations. The audience lived in the same world that I did – a world in which people tell them as a statement of fact that nothing can be done. Well guess what? We are Penn State and we are doing something. The medical advisory board was moved to tears. They dedicated their careers to a disease that was respected by few. They were no longer alone. We were treated like rock stars the rest of the weekend. Children of the patients wrote us thank-you letters because their parents were inspired with courage, spirit and hope. Our effort was always bigger than me and my father, but this was the first time that I realized just how big it was. We had an obligation to help it reach its full potential.
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