Andrew Nelson’s favorite Lift for Life moments are straightforward:
The veteran Nittany Lion will compete one last time at the Nittany Lions’ annual summer philanthropic event in this, its 15th year, on Saturday. And as has been the case for each participation, from his freshman arrival in the summer of 2013 until now, Nelson said he loves the event itself.
But when it comes down to it, the offensive lineman simply cannot tame his competitive instincts.
“Every year, I honestly love Lift for Life. But funny enough I would just say my favorite moments are when I win the events that we do,” he said. “I just like winning.”
Along with the overwhelming majority of his teammates currently on campus working out, Nelson is taking part in events that range from tire flipping to team tug-of-war. And in a turn that has seen the challenge evolve from a four-person team event into one that pits the offense against the defense, the competition has gotten more intense.
“It's always competitive, and that's honestly just the culture on our team. That's something that Coach Franklin has really driven into the culture of this team is that as corny as it may sound, one of our core values is to compete in everything you do, and that's truly what we do,” said Nelson. “You'll see guys hooping and hollering out here. You'll see guys getting pumped up after they win. That's not for show. They really, honestly want to win everything. That's how we are.”
Still, the Nittany Lions also know there’s a serious and deserving cause behind their efforts on Saturday.
In a movement that originated at Penn State following the sudden death of former Nittany Lion Scott Shirley’s father, Don, due to kidney cancer, Uplifting Athlete has grown to include 22 chapters at football programs across the country.
Raising money initially to help fund research for kidney cancer, the effort’s scope has widened to include rare diseases in general and has come to make a more than $400 million economic impact on the rare disease community, according to the group’s literature.
One of the two team presidents for the Penn State chapter this season, linebacker Jason Cabinda noted how much it means to the individual Nittany Lions to see the impact being created through their efforts.
You put in a lot of work and then when you see the result, to see the impact, the amount of money that we've raised, Uplifting Athletes has been a catalyst for the treatments for kidney cancer, and that's huge,” said Cabinda. “Knowing that the personal effort that you put into something has really made that impact just makes you want to do more and more.
“We want one day for there to not be any rare diseases, because those are really people who can't help themselves. They go to the doctor and the people basically tell them, there's nothing we can do. Not enough people have the disease and there's not enough funding for the research be cause of the fact that not enough people have these diseases. So we'll do this and help people who we feel aren't getting enough help or aren't being helped at all, it's a great cause.”
And Nelson, for as much as he’s grown to love the event and the competition that comes with it, has seen his own perspective evolve when it comes to the event.
Now ushering along a new group of Penn Staters, the Class of 2017 taking charge of a kids camp that runs alongside the actual event at Holuba Hall, Nelson said he’s really embraced what the entire event is all about.
“When you're a freshman, you just kind of think it's just this thing we do every summer. It's just kind of something to put on for the community and this and that. You just kind of show up and do what they tell you, and then you go home,” he said. “Then each year you start to learn more and more about it.”
Part of that learning process for Nelson involved a trip to Philadelphia earlier this summer to take part in the Uplifting Athletes leadership council. While there, Shirley spoke to the collected group of leaders from all over the country to talk about the message of Uplifting Athletes, the experience of losing his father to a rare disease, and what has come to develop into a nation-wide philanthropic effort to eradicate those diseases in the time since.
“As an older guy, you start to get more of an understanding about what this is about. Raising money for rare diseases and kidney cancer is how it started, and now it's the whole rare disease community because those people don't get attention because they don't know how to cure that,” said Nelson. “There's no money in that business. There's no medications to give them. People don't try to research them because they can't figure anything out, that's why it's a rare disease. So to be able to make an impact in that regard, you see how much bigger this is than just Lift for Life. It's everything. We do a pledgit drive during the season, there's stuff in the offseason we do to raise money. It's much bigger than just this event and it's really all about just giving back to the community.”