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By Randy York
Here’s an N-Sider alert that will blanket Nebraska with sunshine and spread light across Husker Nation. An organization called Uplifting Athletes, based in Camp Hill, Pa., has announced four finalists for its 2012 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award, and all-conference running back Rex Burkhead is representing Nebraska and the Big Ten Conference. The best thing about this award is how it’s determined – through online voting, beginning Wednesday, Feb. 1 and ending Wednesday, Feb. 29.
That gives Husker fans a full month to use their own social networks and targeted lists to help Burkhead win this worthy award. Voting is restricted to one online vote per e-mail address. Burkhead is on the ballot with candidates from three more BCS conferences (North Carolina State’s Wayne Crawford from the ACC, UCLA’s Luke Gane from the Pac-12 and Florida’s David Lerner from the SEC).
“Uplifting Athletes is a solid program and honors real stories from real people,” said Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s associate athletic director for Life Skills. “There are so many uplifting stories in college athletics, and they’re all important, but we believe Rex’s Team Jack Story has inspired a wide group of people: the pediatric brain cancer patient (Jack Hoffman); the athlete who’s lifting him up (Burkhead); our football team and its head coach; our athletic director and the department he leads; and one of the most caring and important groups of all – the Nebraska fans out there who have added nearly 50,000 visits to check up on Jack’s CaringBridge website.
Zimmer and the Life Skills staff nominated Burkhead for this national award, sponsored by a nonprofit organization that aligns college football with rare diseases and uses the highly visible sport to elevate a national priority through outreach, research, education and advocacy. More than 30 million Americans are affected by rare diseases, and this honor is designed to recognize a leader who has made a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.
“Our family, friends and literally thousands of people we don’t even know owe a lot to Rex Burkhead,” said Andy Hoffman, Jack’s dad and a practicing attorney who lives in Atkinson, Neb. “All the credit in the world goes to Keith Zimmer for setting this relationship up and to Rex Burkhead for making it so genuine and lasting. Those two have been great supporters for Jack and our entire family, and at the same time, they’ve generated incredible interest and awareness for pediatric brain tumor research.”
Burkhead, the 2011 Husker of the Year award winner from Huskers Illustrated magazine, is more impressed with his young friend than the role he played in lifting him up. “I couldn’t believe how positive Jack was,” Burkhead said. “He didn’t feel sorry for himself, whatsoever. I hope I was able to give him strength, wearing his Team Jack wristband in practices and games and getting a bunch more of my teammates to do the same thing. Hopefully, we boosted his morale so he felt like, ‘Hey, I can beat this.’ I know that my own Team Jack – Pray wristband helped me go the extra mile every day in practice and every Saturday we played. When I get tired, I think of Jack and work harder.”
Huskers.com will communicate the opportunity to vote when the ballot goes live online.
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