With this year marking the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Alex’s Great State Race (AGSR), now celebrating the 7th annual event, is a tradition that continues to honor access and opportunity for people with disabilities. Every year, on the eve of the Michigan State University versus University of Michigan football game, Spartan and Wolverine Army ROTC cadets come together to run 64-miles in honor of Alex Powell, a heroic Spartan who sought his cancer treatment at the U-M Hospital.
2020 has been a year marked with uncertainty, however this wasn’t the first time the AGSR Planning Committee has faced challenges!
In November of 2019, the 6th annual AGSR was met with inclement weather conditions only four days prior to the race, interfering with the traditional plans of running the game ball across the 64 miles between East Lansing and Ann Arbor. The roads were left too dangerous from snowfall to safely run on. Despite these complications, the AGSR Committee was dedicated to the spirit of Alex’s name, the Powell family, and the event sponsors. It was decided that it would be best for the cadets to begin on MSU’s campus and then be transported by bus to U-M’s campus, with gracious travel provided by the AGSR’s title sponsor, Dean Trailways.
Beyond the weather, Jill Rice, the Coordinator of Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students at the U-M Service for Students with Disabilities (SSD), was left with a 24-hour window to get new permits for the logistical updates of the event. With the need for space to park Dean Transportation buses during a time of pervasive city construction, Ann Arbor Street Associations had to agree to the extra incoming traffic. Thankfully, Jill was able to make it happen!
With the modified event now in motion, MSU and U-M Army ROTC cadets set out in the early morning of Friday, November 15th, at MSU’s Demonstration Hall, for a ceremonial lap before being transported to Ann Arbor and successfully completing their 64-mile run by running loops around U-M’s campus.
Jill Rice remarked: “One of the things we say is: ‘friends on Friday, rivals on Saturday.’ It’s nice to see both BIG10 schools working together…because the runners really like to do it. They love to do this race. And that was what was interesting to me, that they could do this race, do homework, and handle classes all together at the same time.”
This is something that AGSR only hoped to continue for fall 2020. In light of the pandemic, options were discussed regarding whether to proceed with the event as usual, or to continue as a virtual marathon instead.
“The spirit of AGSR is meant to set aside the rivalry between MSU and U-M, so that both universities can collectively transcend petty differences to focus on what is really important, which is helping students with disabilities, and that is what both ROTC teams accomplished,” says Caleb Sandoval, AGSR Committee Co-Chair and MSU RCPD Ability Access Specialist.
Being this is an event that raises money for the MSU RCPD and the U-M SSD, the committee was looking to make things work by paying tribute to Alex while remaining a vehicle for doing good during times of uncertainty. Just as with AGSR 2019, this year has dealt with many changes and will not proceed with hosting the race as usual. However, this is what students and employees with disabilities have to do every day: they face changes and adapt to them, making do with what was given. The AGSR Committee holds themselves to that standard. They want to host an event that is going to bring about change and awareness through unity.
“Even though the race isn’t happening, in any shape or form, the needs of our students, students with disabilities, they do persist,” says Caleb Sandoval. “And if anything, we need to be able to adapt to how those needs might have changed, given the pandemic. With everyone being at home, we need to be able to respond to those things, therefore, we are still fundraising through Alex’s Great State Race.”
As the year continues, and as we continue to work together to face adversity, the AGSR Planning Committee will use this time to reflect on past achievements and take these accomplishments into 2021. From the established tradition of running the game ball through Michigan backdrops, and the display of gratitude from fundraising efforts, media coverage, and sponsorships, AGSR will continue to adapt to unpredictability and look ahead to the race next year.