Penn State’s 16th annual Lift for Life raises almost $100,000

In the U.S., a rare disease is defined as any disease affecting fewer than 200,000 people. When Scott Shirley’s father was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer in 2002, the disease didn’t seem so rare anymore.

“When I was playing here, I got a call that my dad had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and he was only given six months to live,” Shirley said. “We used every bit of those six months to go to every doctor in the region. Everybody told us nothing could be done. It didn’t really make sense to me.”

Hoping to find a cure, if not for his father, maybe for someone else in a similar situation, Shirley looked to his teammates for help in 2002.

“I was facing some adversity with my dad’s diagnosis with a rare disease and my teammates rallied around me, and said ‘We’re Penn State football. Let’s do something,’” Shirley said.

And do something they did.

“We decided to hold a lifting competition in the summer of 2003 and haven’t looked back.” Shirley said.

Today that lifting competition is known as Lift for Life. Every year since 2003, Penn State football players have showcased their strength and speed in various lifting competitions. Since originating, it has raised over $1 million at Penn State alone, and has a $400+ million economic impact on research for rare diseases. Lift for Life raises money for thousands of rare diseases and although it originated in State College, Lift for Life is making an impact at other colleges as well. There are seventeen Lift for Life events taking place throughout the country this summer and besides Penn State, there are now 21 other Uplifting Athletes chapters across the U.S.

“If you take Penn State out of the equation, that number is zero.” Shirley said. “It’s the fan base that really sees us as student-athletes, so they buy into what we do as people, not just what we do as players on the field. It’s the administration that’s been supportive of the student-athlete, and their ability to do things maybe you wouldn’t expect. Ultimately, it is the players that step up every single year. We’re really lucky, we have a great team, we’ve been able to build something really special that has meaning to a lot of different people.”

Also founded by Shirley, Uplifting Athletes is a nonprofit organization run by football student-athletes, with hopes to make a difference for those affected by rare diseases. Some notable chapters at other schools around the country include Ohio State, Florida State and Notre Dame.

The new co-Presidents of Penn States Uplifting Athletes Chapter are offensive linemen Ryan Bates and Steven Gonzalez. Bates calls Lift for Life “what we do” at Penn State and says it’s “part of our culture.” 

Before Gonzalez benched 225 pounds, 34 consecutive times during LFL, he was raving about his excitement to make a difference in the community. “There’s a lot of people out there who have these rare diseases.” Gonzalez said. “This money fundraised for them is going to a good cause.”

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The first year of Lift for Life raised $13,000 and the following year raised $38,000. For an event like this to continue growing says a lot about the Penn State fans and the players on the team. By simply lifting weights and interacting with fans, these athletes are able to make a positive change in society.

[We] “use the platform we have as student-athletes, and make a difference in the world, and bring awareness to the rare disease community,” quarterback, and former President of Penn State’s Uplifting Athletes Chapter Trace McSorley said. “To see where it’s grown to now, it’s awesome. It’s kind of a testament to the guys in this program and how it’s been passed through. This is something we’re passionate about and our fans respond.”

Roughly $100,000 was raised at Holuba Hall last Saturday, bringing the grand total at Penn State to around $1.4 million since 2003. Among other things, the 16th annual Lift for Life featured over 80 Nittany Lions playing tug of war, flipping tires and signing autographs. A kids’ clinic was put on by some of the football players, where kids could throw a football around, play with their peers and simply have fun with their favorite football players.

“We all love being able to give back as much as we can.” cornerback John Reid said. “Being able to give our time, we all really like doing this. It says a lot about the type of people we got here, the type of character, you know, guys really putting people before themselves and showing they’re not selfish. We’re really blessed to be here and this is a great opportunity. If we can get something positive out of it, it’s something we really love doing.”

A common theme among the football players was their genuine care to help other people. Penn State continues to recruit players who are responsible, respectful and above all are true ambassadors for the Penn State community.

“It says a lot about the guys who come to Penn State.” senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “Not just football players. We don’t just come here to play football, we come here to impact the community. This is a great community to do it to, it’s for a good cause. I love it. I’m glad I got into it.”

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