The Rare Disease Champion Award
is given annually to a leader in college football who has realized his or her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.
USC long snapper Jake Olson is the eighth winner of the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion award. Olson will be presented the 2016 Rare Disease Champion trophy at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala on March 11th at The Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City.
Olson was born with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eyes. A huge Trojans fan all his life, Olson tried to watch as much USC football as possible before losing his sight in 2009. When former USC coach Pete Carroll learned of Olson’s story he invited him to practices, then went a step further and made him an honorary member of the team.
The loss of his sight never slowed Olson down as he continued to flourish on so many levels. During his final two years of high school, Olson was the varsity long snapper for the football team at Orange Lutheran. And in 2015 he earned a spot on the roster of the team he grew up loving, the USC Trojans.
An awareness campaign powered by Uplifting Athletes, the Rare Disease Champion is determined by college football fans and the rare disease community through online voting. The award is presented to the winner at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala in Atlantic City, NJ, and celebrated at Uplifting Athletes’ Gridiron Gala in Harrisburg, PA.
Sculpted by world renowned artist Brian Hanlon, the Rare Disease Champion trophy is in the likeness of Mark Herzlich, the former Boston College and current New York Giants linebacker who provided the inspiration for the award after overcoming a life-threatening battle with the rare disease Ewing’s sarcoma in 2009.
Sammie Coates, Auburn wide receiver. After establishing himself as one of the top deep threat receivers in the country, Coates won the 2015 Rare Disease Champion Award after forming a close friendship with Kenzie Ray, a young leukemia patient and Auburn fan, and giving her support and hope throughout her chemotherapy treatment.
C.J. Zimmerer, Nebraska fullback. The 2014 champion played a pivotal role in the planning and execution of the 69-yard TD run by Jack Hoffman during the Huskers’ 2013 spring game. He was also President of the Nebraska Chapter and was selected as a member of the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team.
Eric Shrive, Penn State offensive lineman, was named the 2013 Rare Disease Champion. Over Shrive's 5-year career at Penn State and involvement with their Uplifting Athletes Chapter, he raised more than $100,000 for kidney cancer research.
Rex Burkhead, Nebraska’s running back, was named the 2012 Rare Disease Champion. Burkhead’s relationship with a 6-year-old boy battling a pediatric brain tumor inspired his teammates to fight back by raising awareness and providing support for him and his family.
Princeton’s Jordan Culbreath was named the 2011 Rare Disease Champion. Culbreath’s personal battle was an inspiration for his teammates and an inspiration to the rare disease community.
Dickinson College’s Ian Mitchell was named the 2010 Rare Disease Champion. Mitchell raised more than $95,000 in his collegiate career in honor of a childhood friend who passed away from a rare form of bone cancer.
The 2009 recipient was Grant Teaff of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), selected for its nation-wide effort to raise awareness about Duchenne Muscular Distrophy through their one-day event “Coach to Cure MD”, which raised more than $230,000 in 2008.