Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti immediately latched onto the Lift for Life event when he arrived on campus. He's now grown so attached to the event that he helps organizing it as a board member of the university's Uplifting Athletes chapter.
"I thought it was something that was pretty cool," Allegretti said. "Just getting to go out there and compete with guys like Matt LaCosse, who's now playing for the Giants, it was really cool event for me. Then my personal experience with it, my brother had leukemia back in the day. I was very grateful that he was able to get treatment. He was able to get healthy. He's doing great now. It's 10 years out now, but to have an effect on a rare disease at the end of the year when we pool all the money together and help some kid, some family, some brother get over a disease they're going through. I think that's just huge. Just having that personal connection makes this organization just a great organization for me.
Illinois will host its fifth annual Lift for Life at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium. The premise? Big, strapping college football players move tons of weight -- literally -- to raise funds to help rare disease research. Illinois started the event in 2012 and over its first four years raised more than $40,000 into research for acoustic neuroma, a disease battled by former Illini offensive lineman Andrew Carter who has survived the disease but had to give up football.
"We have our whole entire team out there in eight teams doing a ton of different lifts, throwing a ton of weight around," said Illinois senior center Joe Spencer, the president of the UI's Uplifting Athletes chapter. "It's a lot of fun. You'll see Rob Bain on the bench press. I think last year he did 65 reps. Mikey Dudek did pull ups out of the gym. We're adding a stair station, so I think a couple guys are nervous about that. But it's all for a great cause."
This year, the Illini will combine their fund-raising with other Uplifting Athletes chapters with other Big Ten schools. Last year, the team raised about $16,000 and hopes to top that number this year. You can participate in the event by attending the event at Memorial Stadium on Friday night or by donating online here.
"It has a greater impact, because you need at least $50,000 to have a serious scientific impact," Spencer said "It also let's everyone share their own story. I'm kind of the last guy on the team that knew Andrew ... but everyone seems to have their own story with rare diseases. It's a great way to reach out, and everybody has fun with it."