Our Past, Present & Future

Our effort started in 2003 when a Penn State football player’s father was diagnosed with kidney cancer and his family learned that little could be done because it was a rare disease – meaning it affected fewer than 200,000 Americans and lacked financial incentive to make and market new treatments. When a teammate learned of these details, he suggested that they do something since, as college football players, they were in a position to make a difference. The Nittany Lions football team rallied around the idea of leveraging a summer strength and conditioning competition into a fund raising event called Lift For Life® by opening it up to their fans and the media. They soon realized that the benefits of this new organization were far greater than they had imagined.

The football student-athletes who were involved with leading this effort essentially created internship experiences for themselves by reaching out to industry professional mentors. The benefits of an off campus summer internships are well documented, but are often void from the college experience of football student-athletes because of their year round commitment to the sport. They also realized their teammates were actively engaged because this was something the team had ownership over, not a community service project that was planned by someone else. Finally, they learned that kidney cancer is one of more than 7,000 rare diseases (such as cystic fibrosis, Hodgkins disease, Ewing's sarcoma or Fanconi anemia), affecting more than 30-million Americans. And that they were making a big difference.

In 2007 Uplifting Athletes was launched as a national non-profit with the Penn State Chapter serving as the model for other college football programs to replicate nationwide. Since becoming a national organization, the network of chapters across the country has grown to more than 25 including half the Big Ten Conference, half the Atlantic Coast Conference and representation in every major college football conference.

Uplifting Athletes has chapters from both FBS and FCS programs, and each of the football student-ahtlete led chapters raises awareness and research dollars for their individual chosen rare disease by holding a Lift For Life or an alternative event each year.