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A rare disease is one that affects fewer than 200,000 Americans and consequently lacks financial incentive to make and market new treatments. Did you know that there are approximately 7,000 rare diseases (such as MS, ALS, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, etc.) in the world?

We interviewed Andy Shay from Uplighting Athletes to learn about how their organization is aligning college football with the rare disease community.

To start, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

I am a converted sportswriter who after more than 20 years, and a say this jokingly, had a mid-life crisis and decided I wanted to serve others. So I left my job in 2014 and joined the staff at Uplifting Athletes. I'm a military brat, my father was in the Air Force, so I grew up living all over the world. I went to high school in England a long time ago, and spent nearly 5 years in the U.S. Army. I'm a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm. Somehow I managed to marry way out of my league, but my wife Maureen for some reason chose me. We've been together more than 20 years and have two children. My daughter, Kaci, is a sophomore at Eastern University studying to be an international missionary and my son, Brendan, is a junior in high school.

As someone who works with a charity, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Every single day I get to answer the question: What can I do today to help? The rare disease community we strive to support is not an easy space to exist in, but the challenges it faces are part of what makes the job so rewarding. If it was easy everybody would it, right?

Tell me about a program or two you developed from start to finish that’s impacted you, your organization and/or others?

I'm very proud to have been in on the ground floor of developing the Uplifting Athletes Letterman's Club. After seven years as an organization, we had all these like-minded former college football players out there in the world. But we had no way of keeping them engaged after they graduated, so being able to personally learn of the level of interest in Uplifting Athletes once they were out of college was inspiring. We still don't know all the answers to the questions about the Letterman's Club since it's less than a year old. But re-engaging with these selfless servants has made an huge impact on me.

What’s the most challenging part of your job that in turn makes it so rewarding?

I think like most people who choose non-profit work as a profession, it's the daily grind of what is your focus. We all are required to do a little bit of everything - some of it outside of our comfort zones. But when you face the doubts and questions, yet still march on in the face of adversity and get to taste even a the smallest measurement of success ... there is nothing more rewarding.

What called you to this career choice where individuals put service about self?

During this journey that is life, I slowly came to realize that the only job I ever wanted to do, be a sportswriter, wasn't something I disliked, necessarily. But it wasn't what I wanted, either. I experienced selfless servitude first-hand during a missions trip to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in 2012 and it started me thinking. Eventually I came to the realization that I wanted to serve other first, and was blessed to be given the opportunity live that out at Uplifting Athletes.

Skydiving or bungee jumping? Why?

NEITHER. I jumped from airplanes while in the Army and never want to experience that feeling again.

Share one of your most cherished memories with your charity, and why it stays with you?

In 2014 former Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates won the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award. That created an opportunity to meet the McKenzie Ray and her family. The relationship between Sammie and Kenzie is special on so many levels. Getting to experience that first-hand was something very, very special.

Besides your organization, is there another charity or cause you support?

I'm a member of the Rotary Club and our motto is service above self. I also serve as the co-founder of The Travers Fund, a 501(c)(3) that supports high school scholar student-athletes in Central Pennsylvania. And I'm also on the Board of Directors for the Rich Lichtel Fund in honor of the greatest high school football coach I ever knew and worked with. His memory is kept alive through this foundation.

Name your favorite sports team and why they are No. 1 on your list?

I'm a HUGE Philadelphia Flyers fan. Why? I love the game of hockey, so any hockey game will due. But it all goes to another level when I watch my Flyers play. I'm not sure I'll see my team win a Stanley Cup before I die, but each fall I dream of that parade down Broad Street! They are my No. 1 team, but I love the sport of college football. I'll watch the NFL, but I have a deep, deep passion for football at the college level.

About Uplifting Athletes

Uplifting Athletes is a national nonprofit organization aligning college football with rare diseases and raising them as a national priority through outreach, research, education, and advocacy. What makes Uplifting Athletes unique is that our chapter network is run by current football student-athletes, providing them with an opportunity to gain practical job skills while learning how to leverage their assets and abilities to make a positive and lasting impact.

Want to be interviewed?

We love charities, and we love celebrating the people who dedicate their lives to supporting others. We want to celebrate you so if you'd like to be interviewed or know someone who we should interview let us know by emailing JP at jp@pledgeit.org.