The Penn State football team will endure its toughest weight work-out of the summer this week, but it may also be the most important hours they spend all year. The Nittany Lions are tuning up for the sixth annual Lift for Life, Friday from 2-7 p.m. at Holuba Hall.
Penn State Uplifting Athletes began in 2003, when several Nittany Lion football players were personally touched by kidney cancer diagnosed in family members. Today, the Lift for Life has raised more than $230,000 for the Kidney Cancer Association.
Moshannon Valley High School graduate Ryan Gmerek, now a junior running back for the Nittany Lions, is part of the student-run organization putting the finishing touches on this year's event. He expects at least 90 of his teammates to suit up for the grueling and voluntary public workout.
"There's a lot of bad stuff in the media about [the football players],'' Gmerek said by phone from University Park. "But for the most part, everyone wants to do something positive, and to help use our notoriety for a good cause.''
Gmerek says that since the Lift for Life began, at least four treatments for kidney cancer have been developed, so the Penn State team can see the difference they're making in the fight against the disease.
The Lift for Life workout marks the unofficial end to the summer conditioning program for the Penn State players, but they go out with a bang: a highly-demanding and highly-competitive session.
In teams of four, the Nittany Lions will work their way through an 11-station conditioning circuit that tests their strength and stamina. The stops include traditional exercises like pull-ups and leg presses, but also feature more unique challenges, like pulling a weighted sled and flipping huge tractor tires.
And like any time they strap on the pads, the Lions are in it to win it.
"There's a lot of pride,'' Gmerek laughed. "Brett Brackett and Mark Rubin were on the team that won it last year, and they're talking about trying to defend their title. It's fun to get a break from the regular lifting routine, but it's also really competitive.''
And during this workout, fans actually get to watch. For a suggested donation of $10 for an individual or $25 for a family, Penn State faithful can get up-close and personal with the sweaty and exhausted Nittany Lions, who even sign autographs - after they've caught their breath.
"It's become a tradition now,'' Gmerek said. "It's something that we look forward to doing every year."
Uplifting Athletes founder, Scott Shirley, has been making the rounds to all of the Big Ten schools, encouraging other universities to take on their own Lift for Life, while the event in Happy Valley continues to grow, along with the hearts of the Penn State participants.
For more information or to donate to the Lift for Life, visit www.pennstate.upliftingathletes.org.
Those fighting the kidney cancer could not ask for greater champions.
Goodman can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears on Tuesdays.