Tag Archives: Memory

In Memory of Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno was an honorary chair of the Uplifting Athletes Capital Campaign.  This is the transcript to the speech I presented at the Joe Paterno Memorial Service held on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 in Harrisburg. You can watch a replay of the service here (my remarks begin with 30 minutes remaining in the broadcast).

To learn more on my perspectives about life, you can read my words of remembrance about Coach Daniels in an earlier blog postJoe Daniels, a former assistant at Ohio State, was also a campaign chair.  


Good afternoon.  It is humbling to stand before you today.  I would like to personally thank the Paterno family for graciously allowing all of us to share in the grieving process.  YOU are a first-class institution.

Everyone here today has a relationship with Coach Paterno.  Some of you are family.  Others are friends…perhaps former players…colleagues or fellow parishioners.  Many of you are fans and a lucky few may have even taken a picture with him.  But whether or not you ever met him does not necessarily define YOUR relationship with Joe Paterno…in my opinion, the best measure of your relationship is how he’s influenced YOU to live YOUR life.

While I was a member of the Penn State football team, my father was diagnosed with a rare disease.  Upon learning that little could be done because of a lack of public interest, my family embarked on a journey to find a cure. It was at that time that my teammates rallied around us to start the “Lift For Life.”  This effort has since evolved into a full-service…national…nonprofit called Uplifting Athletes that works with college football players to raise money for rare disease research.  THIS is a direct product of Joe’s GRAND EXPERIMENT, which he started in 1966 to prove that you would win in the classroom AND on the football field.

In fact, I choose Penn State because they were the only school that told me I could major in engineering and compete for a national championship.  But it’s because Joe’s standards were uncompromised….and the Penn State football program has been built on integrity…that I found myself in a locker room surrounded by like-minded athletes who could respond to adversity in such a positive way.  Not to mention a program with a coaching staff and administration that trusted us to pursue this greater purpose.

At this time, I’d like to ask any former players that are with us today to please stand.

Thank you.

Anyone who would like to learn more about the Grand Experiment, please find one of these gentlemen and ask them to share their story.  We all have one!

It’s hard sometimes for the rest of the world to understand that Joe was more than a football coach or that his legacy is more than his 409 wins.  I believe it was Aristotle who once said, “where your talents meet the needs of the world, therein lies your calling.”  Joe didn’t have to be a teacher to educate young men nor did he have to start a nonprofit to serve his community.  By using his natural talents to the best of his ability…he has made the world a better place.

“Success With Honor” is often referred to in the media as a “motto” or a “slogan.” My goal is to prove that it’s a way of life…And in his memory…I’d like to ask all of you to join me in accepting this challenge.

Thank you, Coach.


Posted by on February 15, 2012 in In Memory


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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.


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


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In Memory of Coach Daniels: Heroes are Remembered, But Legends Never Die

The Daniels Family at the first Ohio State Uplifting Athletes event in 2008

The Daniels Family at the first Ohio State Uplifting Athletes event in 2008

When I awoke this morning at 3:34 am, I was not necessarily deep in thought or overwhelmed with emotions, but I was fully conscious and keenly aware of my physical surroundings.  I simply laid there restless for hours.

A text message I received at 6:09 am justified my unsettled feelings and it all started to make sense. “Please pray for the peaceful repose of Joe Daniels. He passed at 3:45 am surrounded by his family. I’ll call you later and thanks for your prayers.”

Joe Daniels is a man who will be remembered with great love and admiration by myself and many others. At that moment I also prayed that his son who sent the text, Matt Daniels, along with his family and friends, would find comfort in his memories and his Faith.

Unfortunately, it has been through this journey that Matt and I forged our friendship.  Both eldest sons of the best leaders, coaches, educators, mentors, fathers, husbands, brothers and Spiritual men that either of us had ever known. When I first read that Matt’s dad was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), the same rare disease that took my father from this world, I had to reach out and offer my support. I was working in Washington, DC, at the time (August 2006) and Matt was playing football for my college rival, The Ohio State.

Our stories were strikingly similar, however, I try to never tell someone that “I understand” what they are going through. This has become somewhat of a policy for me because I believe that relationships are unique and emotions are personal, so to tell someone that you understand is really only to project your feelings onto them. Instead, I prefer to share my experiences from similar situations and let others deduct what they might consider helpful from my stories. So that is what I did.

As our friendship grew, I decided to make the drive from DC to Columbus to meet Matt and his family. This was a pretty typical road trip planned (or more appropriately not planned) by a twenty something. About an hour into the trip, I decided I didn’t really want to do this alone. Not sure if it was the fear of my own emotions resurfacing less than a year after my father’s passing or the basic need for companionship. Either way, I called my sister at college and asked if she wanted to join me. Her roommate drove her about an hour south so I could pick her up in route and still make it there before #1 Ohio State kicked off against #2 Michigan in the final game of the regular season.

It was a hot ticket and consequently, we had to watch this storied rivalry by crashing a tailgate in the stadium parking lot. After the game, we patiently waited with all the kids seeking autographs at the locker room exit. When we finally met Matt, he introduced us to Joe, Kathy (Matt’s mom) and Kaitlin (Matt’s sister). Joe’s appearance, demeanor and courage resembled the man I missed dearly.  The difference was that we still had a chance to fight.

This trip refueled my passion for Uplifting Athletes. The impetus the inspired my Penn State teammates and I to take action was the dire prognosis for kidney cancer patients and the lack of financial incentive to change it. My father was given six months to live when he was diagnosed and the only FDA approved treatment gave him a 10% chance of a five year survival. Thanks to his healthily lifestyle, the strength of his general health and his overall resolve, my dad outlived the doctor’s estimate by nearly two-a-half years, but it was not quite long enough to benefit from the first new treatment brought to market in over a decade. The same new treatment that doctors prescribed for Joe.

Less than a year after meeting Coach Daniels, I left my engineering job in DC and moved home with my mom to focus on the mission of Uplifting Athletes. There have been a total of six new treatments brought to market for kidney cancer patients since the founding of Uplifting Athletes and the Kidney Cancer Association credits us with being a major catalyst.

Coach Daniels surpassed the five year milestone. In that time, his son and daughter graduated from college, his son got married and his daughter-in-law brought little Joey into this world. He took the Buckeyes to two national championship games, his quarterback won the Heisman trophy and he coached in the first Rose Bowl of his long and successful career. But one more hug, win, milestone, or year is never enough and that is why we continue to fight.

On Joe’s heavenly birthday, I pray that Kathy, Matt and Kaitlin find comfort in the memories he has given them and that little Joey will get to know his grandfather through the stories told by those he touched. I can’t help but feel as though my wake up call at 3:34 this morning was assurance that our fathers have finally met. In my experience, it is true that heroes are remembered, but legends never die.

Joe and Joey Daniels on 9/10/11

Joe and Joey Daniels on 9/10/11


Joe and Kathy are co-chairs for the Uplifting Athletes “Tackling Rare Diseases” capital campaign.  Coach Daniels graduated from Slippery Rock in 1964 and spent 39 years on field as a coach.  His coaching career has been distinguished, with players such as Ken O’Brien, Andre Reed, Ozzie Newsome and Dan Marino under his tutelage. Daniels was elected to the Bethel Park Hall of Fame in 2002 and to the Slippery Rock Hall of Fame in 2004. He was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in May, 2009


Posted by on December 6, 2011 in In Memory, Joe Daniels, Uplifting Athletes


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