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.
A No Risk Decision
After the Penn State chapters Lift For Life that year, I got an e-mail from Carol Willie in Oregon. She thanked me for bringing attention to kidney cancer, because both her husband and her father were kidney cancer patients. She went on to tell me that her and her husband had taken their kids, 12-year-old Alison and 7-year-old Eric, cross-country to lobby on Capitol Hill. and they were surprised by what they learned. One of the staffers they met was shocked that the newest drug was not being covered by insurance … until they told him it was for kidney cancer. The staffer quickly explained that it was not a “popular cancer.” Eric offered the staffer a green bracelet (for kidney cancer) before they left, but the staffer politely declined, stating that they could not accept gifts.
Our mission never seemed more clear. There was a need for what we were trying to do. But the new schools that we were working with could not see past the promotional value of an event like Lift For Life. And if it was just a promotional event, they felt like their marketing staffs could do a better job organizing it than the student- athletes. They finally concluded that they could attract more fans by benefiting more- popular causes. I felt totally helpless. My hands were tied by my daily obligations to my job – a job that I thoroughly enjoyed for a company that I loved. But if we didn’t do something fast, other schools were going to be doing similar events for different causes and our mission would be lost.
In August 2007, I called one of my best friends, who worked in Clark’s human resources department, and asked if we could talk. It was like a scene from a movie. We met outside by the monuments and had a heart-to-heart conversation about everything that had transpired. I feared that I would be letting the company down if I left. Even worse, I would be letting her down, since she had personally recruited me to work there. It seemed pretty simple to her, though. It was a no-risk decision. Clark was going to be fine, and so was I. Regardless of the outcome, the learning experience and the networking opportunities were going to help me more in the end. I submitted my two-weeks’ notice the next day, packed my bags and got out of town. Clark even made a generous contribution to help me get started.
Want to hear more? Please subscribe or stay tuned as I continue to tell my story in the coming posts.