UNIVERSITY PARK — Adam Gress stood up straight, stepped out from in front of the three-ton van he had just been pushing backward and sauntered toward the sideline.
There, the wide-eyed Nittany Lion offensive tackle drew a deep breath and ran his fingers through his sweat-soaked hair.
“It was easy up until now, right?” Gress’s teammate Donovan Smith said.
Soon they’d be on to the next station — be it throwing 20-pound medicine balls backward over the goal posts, flipping giant tractor tires end over end, pulling and pushing weighted sleds or racing across the field carrying dumbbells — with the cause of raising money for kidney cancer research in the backs of their minds.
And while each station at Friday’s 10th annual Lift For Life was assigned differing degrees of difficulty by varying players, the offense made the final event look easy. Penn State offensive players, wearing blue Uplifting Athletes shirts, won three consecutive rounds of tug of war to hammer the white-clad defense 176-136 in the first Lift For Life to use the offense versus defense format at the Penn State Lacrosse Field.
“It’s definitely better when you’re competing,” quarterback Matt McGloin said. “You want those bragging rights for the rest of the summer against the defense but at the same time this doesn’t compare to what kidney cancer survivors are going through.”
And for the second year in a row, Penn State football players raised more than $100,000 to be donated to the Kidney Cancer Association.
As for the events, they were easier than in years past when players normally would create small teams among themselves with a mix of position groups.
In previous years inside Holuba Hall, Penn State players blended traditional workouts with the tire flip and similar events.
This year, position groups competed head-to-head, with defensive lineman battling offensive linemen, running backs and tight ends faced off with linebackers and the quarterbacks and wide receivers squared off with defensive backs.
Since there weren’t nearly as many free weight exercises on the docket this season, many players found the event to be less draining.
“I wouldn’t have said that until we got to the vans,” defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “Once we got to the vans it was over. I felt gassed as soon as I pushed it once. It was over.”
Along with his teammates, McGloin took time to sign autographs and mingle with fans. While the Lions quarterback hasn’t had anyone in his family nor circle of friends be affected by kidney cancer, he was able to talk with fans who have been affected by the rare disease.
“I do know some people that went through it. I’ve met some people out there (Friday) and this thing helps raise money and things like that but (the lifting event) is nothing compared to what those people have gone through. Any time we have the opportunity to give back we definitely take advantage of it.”
Hill drew on his previous experiences volunteering for the Ronald McDonald House in Hershey. Along with other members of his church group, Hill would cook breakfast for families of patients receiving care.
“I see how much that benefits the kids and people down there,” Hill said. “I don’t see the cancer patients in person but I see the families and just by them finding out that people are trying to help and money’s being raised, it makes them feel at ease a little bit more when they’re going through hard times.”
To date, Penn State’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes has raised over 600,000 dollars that has been put to kidney cancer research. Scott Shirley, the executive director of Uplifting Athletes, originated Lift For Life with his then-Penn State football teammates in 2003 after Shirley’s father was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
Shirley, who’s father died in 2005, was on hand for Friday’s Lift For Life and put the event’s growth into context.
“Since he passed away in 2005 six new treatments have been brought to the market,” Shirley said. “We’re literally changing and saving lives.”
Travis Johnson can be reached at 231-4629. Follow him on Twitter @traviswjohnson_