Penn State History

Uplifting Athletes was born out the struggle of one man with a rare disease. The impact this disease had on his family and the college football teammates of his oldest son spawned a movement to help others in their fight.

In the fall of 2002, Scott Shirley received a call from his mother telling him is father, Mechanicsburg high school teacher and baseball coach Don Shirley, had been diagnosed with kidney cancer and probably had six months to live.

A journey that saw the Shirley family visit a variety of medical institutions in the Mid-Atlantic region – including Johns Hopkins – all brought a similar response: nothing could be done.

Still looking for answers, Scott Shirley turned to the American Cancer Association who directed him to the Kidney Cancer Association.

That's when the future Executive Director of Uplifting Athletes found out his father was carrying what is classified as a rare disease.

The seed for Uplifting Athletes' mission was planted.

Frustrated with the feeling of helplessness, Scott Shirley shared his frustration with Penn State football teammate Damon Jones. His suggestion was to do something. After engaging fellow Nittany Lions about joining the fight, the idea of Lift For Life was born.

“Lift for Life proved our ability to mobilize Penn State fans and the media,” said Shirley, who left his full-time job as a civil engineer in Fairfax, Virginia in 2007 to start Uplifting Athletes. “Then we registered as a student organization to try and preserve that experience for other guys on the team.

“We quickly realized the benefits were better than we anticipated. We did a Lift For Life the second year and went from raising $13,000 to $38,000.”

In the summer of 2004 Scott Shirley, Dave Costlo and Carrie Konsky drove to Chicago after Penn State's second Lift For Life to attend a conference for kidney cancer patients. This was the vehicle that provided Shirley with what he called his first ah-ha moment.

“I realized at the conference if nothing else we were in a position to inspire people with hope,” Shirley said. “Fortunately, we've been able to accomplish a lot more.”

Don Shirley lost his fight with kidney cancer in October 2005. Since then, eight new treatments for his rare disease have been put in place and the Penn State Chapter of Uplifting Athletes has continued to thrive under the leadership of Kurt Reese, Kevin Suhey, Brett Brackett and Mike Farrell.

In 2012, the Penn State chapter held Lift For Life No. 10. Since the beginning in 2003, the Nittany Lions' Uplifting Athletes Chapter has raised more than $750,000 for kidney cancer research.