Alex’s Great State Race— the annual 64-mile race that illuminates former Spartan Alex Powell’s powerful legacy — will be “run” differently this year.
The race is a friendly rivalry between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, raising money in memory of Powell, who passed away in 2011 from cancer.
The event has logged more than 448 miles over seven successful years and is typically a trek between East Lansing and Ann Arbor that celebrates Powell’s love for MSU and passion for athletics. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MSU’s Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities, or RCPD, and the University of Michigan’s Services for Students with Disabilities, or SSD, are honoring him with a campaign that highlights the good that has come from the race while thanking its supporters.
Powell, who battled a rare and aggressive cancer, had a dream of attending MSU. With the support of RCPD and SSD, he achieved his goal. The two organizations strive to remove barriers for students with disabilities, and they guided Powell through his Spartan experience. His journey embodies strength and tenacity, and his legacy continues through Alex’s Great State Race.
In a typical year, runners lace up their shoes the day before the MSU vs. U-M football game to promote RCPD and SSD’s mission and to raise funds for MSU’s Alex Powell Spartan Experience Leadership Endowment and U-M’s Alex’s Great State Race Support Fund. These funds support students with disabilities, including those with mobility, learning, visual and auditory disabilities, brain injuries and various chronic health conditions. It hosts a team of Army Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets from both universities who run the football game ball to the university hosting the game.
“We take the race very seriously to keep this tribute to Alex alive,” said Caleb Sandoval, Alex’s Great State Race committee co-chair. “We want everybody to know that we’re here and that we create possibilities for people. We make everything that they’re capable of doing as barrier-free as possible.”
Since the first race in 2014, the annual run has been successful in raising awareness for both RCPD and SSD, said Michael Hudson, director of RCPD at MSU, citing media coverage from publications like ESPN and Fox Sports. To date, it’s raised more than $140,000 for the Alex Powell Spartan Experience Leadership Endowment.
The pandemic created setbacks for the race, Hudson said. “My vision for the future is to reestablish our momentum, letting the community see this is an important part of the rivalry experience that really calls on both schools to meet unique needs and be visible to meeting unique needs as those arise for students with unanticipated disability challenges.”
The month of February is acting as Gratitude Month for Alex’s Great State Race. As a way of giving thanks to its supporters, viewers have the opportunity to hear from the creators of the race, its sponsors, students who have benefitted from the event and more via its social media accounts.
“Now that we have seven years behind us, we’re just going to say ‘thank you’ this year,” Sandoval said. “We’re going to say ‘thank you’ to everybody — the sponsors, the donors, the participants, the folks who run the race, the people in the planning committee. We’re just going to express gratitude all over the place because that’s what it’s all about.”
For more information about Alex’s Great State Race’s Gratitude Campaign, visit its official website.