Greg Olsen humbled by Walter Payton award nomination

For the third time, Greg Olsen is the Carolina Panthers' nominee for the esteemed Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

"It's tremendously humbling," the standout tight end told "This is the third time to be nominated by the Panthers -- a organization that has a lot of other well-deserving players that they could have chosen from that are not only good players but also do a lot in the community. To be chosen three years in a row -- and last year to be a finalist -- has been truly humbling and something I'm proud and appreciative of. It's not something that I take lightly."

For Olsen, personal experiences inspired him to give back to his community.

"When I was a junior in high school, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer," Olsen said. "To see her struggle and go through chemo, radiation and surgery, and all those things made a huge impact on us as a family. ... That was something we always said if we were able to make a difference, we would try to do so."

In 2009, Olsen created Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation. The foundation's Receiving Hope program focuses on cancer research and education programming. The program has distributed over $524,000 to six hospitals and foundations nationwide, with fundraising events led by Olsen.

When adversity struck the Olsen family again, the tight end saw it as another way to broaden the foundation's objectives.

"In 2012, I had a son born with very severe congenital heart defect that was life-threatening and required him to go through a series of open-heart surgeries, as young as two days old, and subsequent other procedures," Olsen said. "[This experience] opened our eyes to these families out there. From that point forward, we went full speed ahead on growing our foundation and growing our platform with this new cause that is very near and dear to our heart. In the last five years, to see how far it's grown and the amount of money we've brought in and the amount of the families we've been able to help has been one of the biggest things in our life."

Olsen traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, in February 2013 to lobby the North Carolina House of Representatives for legislation that would require mandatory heart disease screenings for newborns. The bill was ratified in July 2014.

Additionally, Olsen and his wife Kara founded The HEARTest Yard Fund in 2013.

"Our main efforts for our foundation is our HEARTest Yard program that we run here in Charlotte at Levine Children's Hospital," Olsen said. "We just launched a couple weeks ago -- my wife and I and our foundation are funding the first of its kind in our region -- a cardiovascular and neurodevelopment center that we're going to open here in the next six to 12 months. This clinic will be a huge game-changer for families of our region -- the cardiac families that we support. Through our HEARTest Yard program we've given millions of dollars to the hospital.

"We provide a service of free in-home health care: doctors, nurses, therapists, tailor-made to each individual family upon discharge following their first open-heart procedure. It kind of carries them through the next four to six months of transitioning. ... We've been contacted by other centers throughout the country to take our model and take our template and take it to those cities. Right now, our main goal is to completely fund, service the hospital that we have here in Charlotte before we move onto other areas."

On the field, 2017 has been less than ideal for Olsen, who battled a foot injury that sidelined him for most of the regular season. Though the Panthers were without their top tight end, they remained competitive and are heading to the NFC playoffs.

"It's been a tough year, personally, just dealing with injury and struggling with that for the first time in my career," Olsen said. "... We're right in the hunt, the guys have done a great job all year ... and controlling our own fate has been a great position to be in."

The Panthers clinched a playoff berth last week and square off against the Atlanta Falcons in their final regular-season tilt on Sunday.

To further celebrate the 32 team nominees, Nationwide, the presenting sponsor of the award, is promoting the third annual Charity Challenge. Fans are encouraged to post #WPMOYChallenge and their favorite nominee's last name on social media through Sunday, Jan. 7. The nominee who receives the most hashtag mentions will receive an additional $25,000 donation to his charity of choice from Nationwide. The runner-up will receive $10,000 and third place will receive $5,000.

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