Syracuse Football bands together to tackle rare diseases in annual ‘Lift for Life’ event

Orange Nation

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (SYRACUSE ATHLETICS) – The Syracuse University chapter of Uplifting Athletes hosted its seventh annual “Lift for Life” event on Thursday, July 18 inside Manley Field House.

The Orange football squad divided its roster into eight teams and squared off in various athletic challenges to raise research funds and awareness for those affected by rare diseases.

To date, Syracuse has raised nearly $7,000 with a bench press competition still to come tomorrow morning. One-hundred percent of the contributions go to support Uplifting Athletes and their commitment to life skills development, patient-focused programs, and rare-disease research.

The teams, captained by linebacker Andrew Armstrong (Youngstown, Ohio), quarterback Tommy DeVito (Cedar Grove, N.J.), offensive lineman Sam Heckel (Waukesha, Wis.), offensive lineman Airon Servais (Green Bay, Wis.), running back Moe Neal (Gastonia, N.C.), defensive lineman Kenneth Ruff (Lauderhill, Fla.), defensive lineman Kendall Coleman (Indianapolis, Ind.) and cornerback Christopher Fredrick (Conley, Ga.) went head-to-head in a sled pull and push, tire flip race, figure-eight relay and a shuttle drill.

Team Heckel was crowned the 2019 “Lift for Life” champion after defeating Team Servais in the championship round tug-of-war.

“Lift for life is always a great time,” Heckel, who is in his second year as Syracuse’s chapter president, said. “It’s right before camp starts, so it’s just a good way to bring the whole team together for a good cause and compete against each other. I’m glad our team showed out tonight.”

Servais echoed Heckel’s sentiments about the importance of the event.

“It’s a lot of fun and you can see that out here,” Servais said. “Guys are cheering each other on and competing really hard so it’s really nice to get out here to not only do this kind of stuff as a team but to also raise awareness about rare diseases.

“We’ve had guys on the team who have been directly affected by stuff like this so it’s really important that we’re able to come out here and do this kind of stuff and get some media on it, get some donations, and help support the cause.”

This year’s “Lift for Life” hit especially close to home for the Syracuse Athletics community following women’s basketball star Tiana Mangakahia’s recent diagnosis of Stage 2 breast cancer.

“For times like this with the women’s basketball team and everything that’s going on, we’re going to keep them near and dear in our hearts,” Heckel said.

Syracuse joined Uplifting Athletes in 2013 to honor former punter and team captain Rob Long, who overcame Anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare form of brain cancer that caused him to miss the final game of his career.

Long, the new executive director for Uplifting Athletes, was in attendance Thursday.

“Rob is everything to this chapter,” Heckel said. “He’s the reason for it here and he’s a great leader. He’s taught me and [previous Syracuse chapter president] Zack Mahoney a lot about how to be good people and to help others.”


A nonprofit organization founded in 2007, Uplifting Athletes inspires the rare disease community with hope through the power of sport. A rare disease is one that affects fewer than 200,000 Americans and consequently lacks financial incentive to make and market new treatments. With a network of university chapters run by current college football student-athletes, Uplifting Athletes has established 30 chapters across the country.

For more information about Uplifting Athletes, visit

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