For Scott Shirley, some things never get old.
The Uplifting Athletes co-founder and executive director held his son (who wore a No. 14 Penn State jersey) as he scanned the lacrosse field on Saturday afternoon. Behind him, the playful chatter of the Nittany Lions football players mingled with the clangs of weights on racks, the loud smacks of 750-pound rubber tires hitting the turf and the rhythmic pumping of the bass in the music spurring everything along.
Just like every year before it for more than a decade, Penn State’s Lift for Life charity event was in full swing in the July breeze.
“On the one hand, you see a lot of the same people, which is a great family reunion,” said Shirley. “On the other hand, you see new guys, the new players who have really stepped up and taken on (leadership roles), and get to watch them grow year over year.”
Uplifting Athletes, which holds all Lift for Life events under its umbrella, was started by Shirley and a few friends in a dorm room at Penn State after he found out, at age 22, that his father had been diagnosed with kidney cancer and had just six months to live. It has blossomed from a small startup to a multiprogram organization that raises millions for rare disease research.
But it all began at Penn State, and it was there that Shirley took a moment to honor his roots on Saturday at the 14th installment of the event.
“It’s cool to think that 14 years ago, I was out here and one of these guys,” Shirley said, motioning to the players. “Now I’m out here (with my family) and I really have the fan perspective. I appreciate more what this event means to the Penn State community at large, and not just the rare disease community it was founded to serve.”
The charity also gives back to the student-athletes by putting them in leadership roles to actually plan out and execute the event, as well as fundraise outside of the event itself.
“The players have ownership of it,” said Shirley. “The players are getting something out of it that is really intangible, but it’s not somebody taking advantage of them. The program is giving them as much as they are giving to the community through their efforts.”
Senior left tackle Andrew Nelson serves on the committee that makes Lift for Life possible each year.
“As I’ve developed my career, I’ve been able to become more involved in Lift for Life, help with the setup, understand the logistics of things,” he said. “So that’s really cool, to see all that goes into it, and to realize how great of a cause it is and talk to guys like Scott (Shirley) and hear the story of it more.”
Nelson laughed when asked about the trash-talking that would be sure to occur during each event — there was an obstacle course, sandbag stack, sled pull and push, shuttle run, farmers’ hold, overhead press and bench press that pitted the offense against the defense, and the entire event finished with a tug-of-war — but said all of the players realize the big picture.
“It’s so much more than just the football up here. ...Whatever it may be, just giving back in the community, we love things like this,” he said. “We think our program is defined by more than just wins and losses, more than just game days. We think that our program is also defined by this; great causes and raising money for great causes.”
Penn State has not officially announced the total amount raised this year. The team’s goal was to raise $150,000, which is $25,000 more than last summer’s total.