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Rare Disease Champion

Rex Burkhead: 2012 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Jaime Fettrow

Nebraska Running Back Rex Burkhead is named the 2012 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion after inspiring a young fan battling a rare brain cancer. The announcement was made Wednesday during a special event held in Bethesda, Md., at the National Institutes of Health’s annual Rare Disease Day.    

Burkhead didn't realize lunch with a stranger in September this past year would change his life.  It was then that he met 6-year-old Jack Hoffman.  Hoffman had been diagnosed with a rare pediatric brain tumor called a low grade glioma; Jack's ultimate dream was to meet Burkhead. 

“I couldn’t believe how positive he was,” Burkhead said.  “He didn’t feel sorry for himself, whatsoever.”

Jack’s father, Andrew Hoffman says Rex took an interest in Jack, almost instantly palling around with him.  It was as if at least for that day, there was not a care in the world for Jack.  Rex and his teammates wear wristbands in honor of Jack.  Rex has followed up with Jack numerous times on the phone and in person, even calling Jack days before a second scheduled surgery in Boston.  It has meant the world to Jack, knowing that Rex cares so much.  The Hoffmans are confident that Rex is making a difference in their son’s life.  Although the road ahead is long, they say doctors believe the prognosis is favorable.

"Rex is a shining example of a college football player who realizes the position he's in to make a difference," said Uplifting Athletes founder and Executive Director Scott Shirley.  "The friendship he's forged with Jack has inspired him and his family with hope and has brought much needed attention to a rare disease cause.  It's fitting to recognize him with this honor and place his name along side of our former winners."

The Rare Disease Champion Award, determined by an online vote among four finalists nominated by their schools or organizations, is presented annually to recognize a leader in the world of college football who has made a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.  A record number of votes - more than 76,000 - were cast for this year's award. 

Previous Rare Disease Champions include 2011 winner Jordan Culbreath of Princeton, 2010 winner Ian Mitchell of Dickinson College and 2009 winner Grant Teaff of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).

Other finalists for the 2012 Rare Disease Champion Award included North Carolina State's Wayne Crawford, UCLA's Luke Gane and Florida's David Lerner.  Burkhead will receive the sculpture at a date to be announced later.