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By Randy York
As a father listened to an executive director explain the mission and goals of Uplifting Athletes on an international webcast originating from Bethesda, Md., Wednesday, he couldn't help but be humbled. The more Andy Hoffman, a practicing attorney in Atkinson, Neb., tried to explain what he'd just seen, the harder it was. Finally, the voice faded. When it came back, there was a clearing of throat and an apology, but none necessary. Any father with a 6-year-old kid who has brain cancer would choke up thinking back to what all led up to Rex Burkhead winning the 2012 Champion Award. "Words cannot describe it," Hoffman said. "I get chills just thinking about the ripple effect that started with a simple request to take 30 seconds and get a picture of Rex Burkhead with my son Jack because Rex is his favorite player. That request led to the graciousness of Keith Zimmer, who went a big step beyond, talking to Rex and inviting our family to have lunch and take a tour with him."
No wonder Andy Hoffman choked up when he heard how Uplifting Athletes works with college football players to raise rare diseases to a national priority. "I really can't think of anything more pure than that," Hoffman said. "I'm so impressed by their commitment to the rare disease community and so thankful that they created a platform for my son's rare disease to have a voice. They gave it feet. They gave it legs and with a lot of help from Rex, they gave it a voice." Hoffman was stunned to see a fourth-year organization reach heights it never would have dreamed possible until Rex and Jack formed a bond that was featured on national television and captured the hearts of Husker Nation.
With 76,000 votes - 56,000 more than the only other benchmark Uplifting Athletes has published on its website, you can bet Nebraska football fans voted in force for Burkhead. "It's overwhelming," Hoffman said. "Someone sent an email that this national award received more votes than the top three candidates in the Iowa Republican Caucus. I couldn't believe it, but he was right. That's important and exciting for our family because of all the right reasons. Bringing attention to the disease itself is the biggest thing. Since Jack suffers from a variation of the most common form of pediatric brain cancer, we know the treatment protocols and chemotherapy regimens are the same ones that were in place 30 years ago. That's why it was so emotional watching the announcement that Rex won the award. It was huge for Rex, for Jack and the NIH (National Institutes for Health) - the group that allocates federal dollars to research all these rare diseases. That was amazing to watch."
Even for a kindergartner. "Amazingly, Jack had a snow day today, so he got to stay home and watch the live presentation with mom," Andy said. "According to my wife, when they announced Rex's name, he yelled this huge "YAAAAYYYY", then called me at the office. He was pumped, super pumped. That's as excited as he gets. He can't really connect all the dots, but he understands how it helps his cause, and he was really, really excited. He wasn't excited for himself. He was excited for Rex. He thought Rex winning that award was super cool. No words can describe the impact Rex has had on Jack and our entire family. This is bigger than a 6-year-old little boy who's fighting for his life and feeling good about himself. There are a lot of good people out there, and we've discovered so many of them going through all of this. It's really overwhelming in every way, including all the prayers because we think that has been absolutely pivotal. We've seen how one action can affect another." The ripple effect began with a simple request that became a national story because someone cared enough to deliver more than a 30-second photo. Today, the N-Sider thanks countless people, including an athletic director and a head football coach, both of whom joined the cause and made the experience even more memorable.
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