On Friday, before the MSU and University of Michigan football teams went against each other on the field, students from both universities had a friendly rivalry off the field. In a new tradition called called Alex’s Great State Race, both sides aimed to raise the most awareness and funds for student disability services.
ROTC cadets from the Spartan Battalion and the Wolverine Battalion joined Playmakers’ ultimate marathon runners Michael Richmond and Derrick Guty for a 64-mile run from Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor to Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, carrying the game ball.
“At first I wanted to do a big run for selfish reasons, but when I heard about this event last minute, I thought, ‘Why not run for a great cause?’” Guty said.
The race was held in memory of former Spartan Alex Powell, who was diagnosed with a rare aggressive cancer. His dream was to become a Spartan, and MSU’s Resource Center for Persons With Disabilities supported him when he was a student.
Powell started at MSU in 2010 and passed away on May 8, 2011.
Who it’s helping
All of the funds raised from Alex’s Great State Race will go toward helping students like kinesiology junior Kate Rendi, who also traveled the 64 miles between U-M and MSU last Friday morning. However, she didn't make the trip as a runner or a fan, but as a patient.
Rendi was diagnosed with cancer her senior year in high school in March 2012.
“I didn’t get upset, but rather asked three questions,” Rendi said when she found out. “‘Am I going to lose my hair? Can I go on spring break? Can I still attend State in the fall?’”
She said the answers were, yes, no and we’ll see, respectively.
“Making it through high school graduation and prom with my shiny, bald head sure fueled my determination to make it to MSU in the fall,” Rendi said. “This is when the Resource Center for Persons With Disabilities came to my rescue.”
RCPD informed Rendi’s professors of her situation and helped her figure out how to keep up with classes while she was going through radiation. The center also offered transportation to help her get through the long winter months on crutches.
Without RCPD, Rendi said she wouldn’t be able to be the director of the student organization Spartans Fighting Cancer, an Izzone member and a kinesiology major with plans of PA school.
“Without RCPD, I wouldn’t be a Spartan,” Rendi said.
Inspired by the support the RCPD gives to students with disabilities, Powell’s family decided to give back to the organization.
Director of the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities at Michigan State University Michael Hudson said they’ve reached 150 percent of their fundraising goal from the race and are not done yet.
“Our countdown timer runs out in about 60 days, so there’s still some post-race opportunity here,” Hudson said. “It’s an all-American rivalry that people can really get behind.”
He said they set their goal at $10,000 and raised $15,000 already. Hudson said U-M raised a little over $10,000 for their disability center, Services for Students with Disabilities.
Where funds are going
Hudson said students come to MSU with all sorts of ambition and excitement, but disabilities can provide a great number of challenges. He said he also understands that disabilities vary from student to student.
“We see a lot of students with learning disabilities who need tutoring, so we want to enhance tutoring opportunities,” Hudson said. “We know technology is hugely important in helping people be independent if you have a disability like a reading disability, visual or mobility.”
With money raised through Alex’s Great State Race, he said they’ll be able to do more with coaching, tutoring and technology.
“As director of the department, I have a great team that come up with new ideas all of the time and say, ‘Mike, here’s a new need and here’s how I think you can address it,’” Hudson said. “This funding gives us the ability to meet those needs and to really say, ‘Let’s try it. Let’s go for it.’”
Making a difference
Alex Powell’s mother Juliana Powell said all her son really wanted to do was make a difference. With this race, she said, he’s still able to do that.
Beyond the fundraising, Hudson said the race helped to raise awareness about on-campus disability services at MSU and U-M.
He said these programs are an important opportunity for many people, like Alex Powell and Rendi, who will face challenges and desire to succeed despite disability.
To learn more about Alex’s Great State Race, visit alex.rcpd.msu.edu. There are donation links on the site for both MSU’s RCPD and Michigan’s counterpart.