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Maxwell Honor Reaffirms My Beliefs in Penn State Student-Athletes


2012 Penn State Senior Class

2012 Penn State Senior Class

Earlier this year, Friday July 13 to be exact, I witnessed what I always believed to be true. One day after the Freeh Report was released, this group of Penn State football players simply continued to go through life as they knew it.

Their spirit was contagious for the thousands of fans on hand for the annual Lift For Life event on the lacrosse field in the shadow of Beaver Stadium under the cloud of the Freeh Report and the impending NCAA sanctions.

And nearly five months later, standing at 8-4, this Penn State football senior class is being recognized for their courage and fortitude in the face of adversity by one of the leading football awards organizations in the country.

I’m very lucky in my role with Uplifting Athletes, I get to work with the good kids at every school. But they never cease to amaze me. And this group of Penn State seniors faced unparalleled challenges.

And to me, this group of Penn State seniors demonstrated that through all of this it was clear their priorities individually and collectively were never out of line. They chose to stay under a dark cloud that they had nothing to do with creating it. And the NCAA gave them the freedom to walk away.

Whether they stayed or left for another program, there were no guarantees under either situation. Only the negatives were guaranteed – no bowl game, no postseason, loss of scholarships and teammates transferring. It was up to them to create their own positives.

And by winning the Maxwell Football Club Thomas Brookshier Spirit Award in recognition of their commitment, leadership and outstanding effort this season, this group clearly demonstrated they were fully capable of not only navigating the unknown, but could also create their own positives at the same time.

What I knew to be true before November 5, 2011 when the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal broke, I believed it to be true after the Freeh Report was released in July and this Penn State senior class has proven it to be true today.

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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in News, Penn State, Uplifting Athletes

 

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Uplifting Athletes Recaps 2011 and Looks Forward to 2012


Dear Friends of Uplifting Athletes,

I hope that you are enjoying a prosperous start to the New Year. As this is a time for refocusing goals and beginning new endeavors, Uplifting Athletes is also beginning some exciting new projects that we would like to share with you.

This January, we will kick-off our Rare Disease Champion campaign. Now in its 4th year, this special campaign allows us to recognize these true champions that have helped to define Uplifting Athletes and share their inspirational stories with the rest of the world. Also, the planning of our April 20thGridiron Gala” is well underway and it’s going to be amazing!  There are too many details to share in just one blog post, so for now please visit our web site to learn more about what we have in store for this black-tie optional event!

Right now I’d like to take this opportunity to personally thank the outstanding people who helped to make 2011 one of Uplifting Athlete’s best. Please visit the Uplifting Athlete’s blog to read my letter “ Uplifting Athletes Recaps 2011 and Looks Forward to 2012.”

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in Uplifting Athletes

 

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Stronger Every Day: A Simple Plan


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 Simple Plan

Jones, Shirley & Costlow

Jones, me & Costlow in the early days

Uplifting Athletes started with an innocent conversation between two college football players. The story has been well documented, but I never mind sharing the details. In the fall of 2002, I was a receiver with the Penn State football team. I was on my way home from practice one day when my cell phone rang. When I saw my mom’s name on the screen, my heart dropped to my stomach. It was one of those calls that I knew was going to bring bad news. Sure enough, I answered the phone and she was so choked up that she couldn’t even talk. I pulled into the parking lot in front of the Nittany Lion Inn while she composed herself enough to tell me that my father had been diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (commonly known as kidney cancer). They were told that he’d be lucky to see me graduate six months later.

Thanks to Coach Joe Paterno’s teachings–You’re never as good as you think you are when you win, and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you lose–I had developed a pretty level head. You hear about people beating cancer all the time, right? My dad had lived a healthy lifestyle – he didn’t drink or smoke and remained active as a high school baseball coach for 30-plus years. He was a fighter. He was going to be a survivor. Everything was going to be OK.

That fall, I went with my parents to the best medical centers in the mid-Atlantic region. Everywhere we went, though, we were told that nothing could be done. In my mind, that meant we just hadn’t found the right doctor yet. We finally got a referral to Johns Hopkins, which in my mind was like going to see the Wizard of Oz. As excited as I was to go, I was equally heartbroken when we left. The doctor didn’t even stay in the room long enough to close the door. All he said was that there was nothing they could do.

On the way back to State College, it hit me that there had to be more to this story. So I called the American Cancer Society and was told that kidney cancer does not typically respond to standard first-line treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation and is not one of the organization’s priorities. They were sorry, and I was now more desperate. My next call was to the Kidney Cancer Association. That is when I learned why nothing could be done: Kidney cancer affected fewer than 200,000 Americans and was classified as a “rare disease,” meaning there was little financial incentive to make and market new treatments.

The rest of the trip home left me plenty of time to think. I had always assumed that cancer was cancer. I never considered different cancers to be different diseases. But they are. Different molecular pathologies. Different treatment protocols.

So now what? By the time I walked into my apartment, I was pretty aggravated. My roommate and teammate, Damone Jones, was sitting on the couch watching TV and greeted me as usual. Except this time, when he asked how my day was, I expressed my frustration with the situation that my family was facing. It wasn’t that “nothing could be done.” It was that it wasn’t important enough to do anything. Without hesitation, Damone shrugged his shoulders and suggested that we do something. “We’re Penn State players,” he said. “If we do something stupid, it’s on the front page of the papers. Let’s take advantage of the position that we’re in and use that spotlight to make a difference.”

Want to hear more? Please subscribe or stay tuned as I continue to tell my story in the coming posts.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Don Shirley, Uplifting Athletes

 

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Stronger Every Day: An Introduction


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.

An Introduction

Don Shirley

My father, Don Shirley

It’s not often that I take the time – or make the time – to do so, but every now and then, something happens that encourages me to look back and say “wow.” February 28th, 2010 was one of those days. I was at Third Base Restaurant in Austin, watching Texas football players compete against one another in EA Sports NCAA Football ’10 as part of Global Rare Disease Day.

After Longhorns defensive back Clark Ford claimed the campus championship belt in Austin, he was matched up against West Virginia linebacker J.T. Thomas, who was wearing his title belt in Morgantown. The players, fans and media had a blast watching these two college football stars going head-to-head (with 1,400 miles between them) via Xbox LIVE. What made it even more entertaining was the interaction between everyone at the two sites. A Skype video feed on one TV allowed the players and fans to see each other while communicating (trash talking) via Twitter on another screen. For better or worse, Texas and Penn State both got knocked out of the tournament that day before crossing paths. However, it would have really come full circle for me if the teams went head-to-head and the Skype video allowed me to be a part of the event in State College that afternoon, which is where all of this started a few years ago.

The 2010 Uplifting Athletes Video Game Challenge featured 48 college football players from Penn State, Ohio State, Texas, Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia. It required the assistance of about 20 volunteers and coordination between all of the football programs, restaurants and local GameStop stores.

The purpose of the event was no different than any other Uplifting Athletes event – to use college football as a platform to connect fans to the rare disease cause. Our efforts generated buzz locally and nationally. And it was only one of the events we had planned that weekend. Others included an advocacy day in Washington, D.C., a team marathon in Tampa, a Rare Disease Night during winter sports contests (including a blood drive), and the crowning of the Rare Disease Champion, which is awarded annually to a leader in sports who realizes the position they are in to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community. More than 20,000 votes were cast on our Website, with Dickenson quarterback Ian Mitchell winning for his efforts to raise $95,000 in memory of a childhood friend who lost his life to a rare disease.

We would not have dreamed in 2003, the year Uplifting Athletes was established, that any of this was possible. To be honest, we might have even laughed nervously at all of these ideas a year ago. But it was possible, and the potential is endless.

Want to hear more? Please subscribe or stay tuned as I continue to tell my story in the coming posts.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Don Shirley, Uplifting Athletes

 

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