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Random TXTs of Kindness


During the Spring of my junior year at Penn State, the world taught me a harsh lesson about life, relationships and faith. Eric Dare was one of my first friends in college. We had very similar values. Our families always came first, we were respected by our peers for our work ethic and we developed meaningful relationships with our teammates.

Our football team was ranked #1 in Sports Illustrated’s preseason poll and we won our first eight games of the season. Minnesota derailed our plans for a national championship with a Hail Mary pass and a last second field goal. It was like having the wind knocked out of us. I personally feel that our team was so intent on winning the BCS title that once it became out of reach, nothing else mattered. There was no talk about winning the Big Ten or the Rose Bowl.  Both of which were still possible until we lost to Michigan and Michigan State in subsequent weeks…resulting in an invitation to the Alamo Bowl.

Eric thought it would be a idea for a group of us freshman to drive his family’s RV 26 hours from State College, PA, to San Antonio, TX.  This was a great opportunity for us to regroup and bond with each other.  We ended up beating Texas A&M in their back yard, but the memory that I’ve held onto is the friendship I developed with Eric’s younger brother Kevin.

That summer, I moved in with Eric and Kevin. We worked together, worked out together and spent quality time with his parents and grandparents. Kevin started school at Penn State the following year and competed in the pole vault on the track team. He was a natural athlete and one of the best at his craft.

His life ended tragically at the Big Ten indoor championship meet when he landed head first in “the box.” I called Eric immediately and to my surprise, he answered. From that day on, I’ve never hesitated — or regretted — reaching out to someone at a time of need.

This was really my first experience with death. I learned that you will never feel guilty going to a funeral (even if you ONLY knew the deceased) and that the grieving process usually begins after everyone else is gone…so make sure to offer your support in the weeks following the wake.

But it was reading the hundreds, if not thousands, of fond memories from people who dearly loved Kevin that it struck me: Wouldn’t it have been nice for Kevin to hear these things?

Now, this question opens up an entirely different spiritual debate (which I have not completely resolved for myself yet), but why did everyone wait until it was too late? Every day of this conscious life is a gift, even if it’s only but a moment of our eternity.  I decided then to make the most of it and I started by letting my loved ones how much I cared about them.  (It doesn’t hurt to look a stranger in the eyes and smile either.)

Since then I’ve adopted a personal philosophy to share “random TXTs of kindness.”  Every time I have a thought about a friend that brings a smile to my face…I let them know.  It’s as simple as “thinking about you” or a funny story that usually starts with “remember when…” Either way, it rarely takes more than 140 characters to make someone else’s day a little brighter. It’s also a nice reminder of my friendship with Kevin.  Who knows, it might just be his way of letting me know he’s thinking about me, too.

Eric and I are still good friends.  He helps with my effort to eradicate rare diseases through Uplifting Athletes and I have helped his family’s mission to improve safety in the sport of pole vaulting. To learn more, please visit www.kevindare.com.

 

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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in 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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