Over the past decade, the Penn State football team's annual Lift For Life Challenge has become the nation's largest student/athlete-run philanthropy.
Organized and presented by members of the Nittany Lion program, the mid-summer strength and conditioning competition has generated nearly $600,000 for the fight against the rare disease kidney cancer. It has also spawned the national group Uplifting Athletes, which, by the end of this summer, will have spread to at least a dozen other universities.
As impressive as the growth has been, the Penn State players and coaches believe they can do even more at the local level. So there are significant changes in the works for this year's LFL event, which will be held on campus this Friday. If you are visiting town for Arts Festival, be sure to stop by.
We're looking forward to trying an exciting new format at a new location and time, said offensive lineman Eric Shrive, vice president of the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes. But the goal is still the same -- to raise money and awareness for the fight against kidney cancer.
In the past, LFL was held in Holuba Hall throughout the day. Teams of four went through a dozen different exercises, and the group that performed the best and raised the most money was crowned champion.
At the advice of new strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald, the Nittany Lions are going with a more streamlined approach this year.
The event will be held at the new outdoor lacrosse field (across University Drive from Holuba) or, if the weather is bad, indoors at the nearby Multisport Facility. There is plenty of parking in the area, which was not the case at Holuba.
Rather than starting early in the afternoon, the action will begin at 5 p.m. and will run for about two hours. The idea is to add to the excitement by having one large group of fans as opposed to a steady stream going through over the course of many hours.
We're going to make it more of an offense-defense competition, Fitzgerald said. (The players are) all gonna be there at one time. We want to get as many people in the crowd as possible to see the guys competing against each other on the spot.
What new events might we see?
Well, we don't want to ruin all of the surprises.
But in his previous post as strength coach at South Carolina, Fitzgerald was known for using some outside-the-box training tools, including sledgehammers and giant tires (ones that dwarf those used in the tire flip in previous LFLs). Sledgehammers and ridiculously big tires were spotted on the sideline at PSU practices in the spring.
Offensive Jets (little skill guys) will square off with defensive Jets (DBs). Offensive Bombers (RBs and such) will square off with defensive Bombers (LBs). Offensive Tanks (linemen) will square off with defensive Tanks (linemen).
Also, well-placed sources say some sort of obstacle course will be part of the event.
As has been the case in the past, the players will interact with fans, whether answering questions, posing for photos or signing autographs.
We will have the same access to players as always, Shrive said. And there will be a chance for fans who make larger donations to gain VIP access to the field.
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The first Lift For Life was held in 2003, when then Penn State walk-on Scott Shirley and his teammates were looking for a way to help in the fight against kidney cancer. Shirley's father, Don, had been stricken with the disease, and while it was difficult for the team to do anything to specifically help Don's recovery, Scott and company turned their annual mid-summer strength and conditioning competition into a fundraiser to impact the overall cause.
Don passed away in October of 2005. But the cause for which he had served as an inspiration -- Lift For Life -- had taken off.
The first event was held on PSU's outdoor practice field and in the weight room of Lasch Building, and raised $13,000. The second year (2004), it moved to Holuba and generated $38,000.
The figure has climbed steadily throughout the years, reaching a high of more than $100,000 in 2011.
We hope to surpass that this year, Shrive said.
In the meantime, Scott Shirley used the momentum generated at Penn State to launch Uplifting Athletes and take the concept of college football players raising money and awareness for rare diseases to the national level.
The first week he was on campus, new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien reached out to Shirley. Fitzgerald was in on the meeting, too.
Coach O'Brien met with Scott and he was really moved by it, Fitzgerald said. He wants to take a huge bite of it and really get after it this summer. He's excited about it.
Though he grew up in Philadelphia and went to high school with former Penn State offensive lineman and graduate assistant coach Keith Conlin, Fitzgerald admitted that he did not know much about Lift For Life before landing his new job with the Nittany Lions.
But it didn't take him long to gain an appreciation for it. He is looking forward to being a part of the 10th annual version of the challenge later this week.
We're really excited about it. Fitzgerald said. It's an honor to be a part of it. We're really going to do our best to try to uphold that whole deal, because I think it's awesome.
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