Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Georgia Tech Grads Leave Lasting Legacy by Jen Lesshafft

Final Exams. Term papers. Group projects - The seemingly never-ending cycle of life as a college student. As a student at Georgia Tech, Todd Schmidt spent countless hours in the library, focusing on his schoolwork and preparing for his future as an aerospace engineer. Even though his life was incredibly stressful between school and his commitment to his fraternity, he knew that there was just one more little thing to add to his to-do list: cure cancer.

I know what you’re thinking. How can a college student with no medical or scientific background cure cancer? It’s simple! By creating a team and raising awareness and funds for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

After returning from a fraternity convention that focused a lot on philanthropy, Todd realized that even though he was busy with a rigorous course load at Georgia Tech, he wanted to use whatever free time he had to serve. He remembered how his parents participated in Team In Training (TNT) while he was in high school. At almost the same time, a close friend of his was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). It just clicked. Todd decided to join TNT.

“In college, you don’t really think you have the extra time, but you do,” said Todd. “I talked with my parents about their experiences with TNT and I knew this was what I wanted to do. I knew that I could utilize my love for running toward finding a cure.”

Todd convinced his friend, Justin Levine, to join his team. He figured that if he wanted to do it, there were plenty of other people that would want to help, too.

Justin (left) and Todd (right) running in the 2009 ING marathon. 

Unlike Todd, Justin didn’t have a mission connection. He admits to initially joining the team simply because he had always wanted to run a marathon.

“We did it selfishly because we wanted to do a marathon,” said Justin. “We didn’t understand what TNT was but after experiencing it, it changed everything.”

Together, Todd and Justin recruited six other Tech students. It was important for them to find an event that was close to home, so they decided on running the now Publix Georgia Marathon and Half, held right here in Atlanta. In their first year with TNT, the Tech team raised more than $19,000.

Todd and Justin were the backbone of the Tech TNT team. They started formally recruiting in 2009 and had 25 team members. Todd and Justin went the extra mile (pun intended) and, in 2011, made the team an official student club at Georgia Tech. With this new status, the team now has a faculty advisor (who is also a TNT alum) and student board members, ensuring future leadership of the team as people graduate. But even more importantly, the team is now eligible to receive funding from student government. This financial support helps to plan and promote team fundraising events and limits the amount of raised funds needed to implement each fundraiser, ultimately allowing the team to raise more money toward the fight against blood cancer.

To help keep the team engaged and interested, they set up group runs throughout Tech’s campus. They also organized shuttles to join the official TNT training runs. As college students, time management was important – these runs on campus helped to keep the team active and engaged, all in between classes, exams and projects. Todd and Justin were able to manage the time the team needed to train for the races but also ensure that academic endeavors were not affected.

Together, Todd and Justin helped increase participation year after year. This year is the team's fifth year participating in TNT, and with the help of Alyssa Golemme, the team's current captain, the Tech Team had 133 students sign up and raised approximately $136,781!

Although Todd and Justin have since graduated and are no longer officially part of the team, they are still actively involved. In fact, they are both taking time off from their jobs (Justin is in New York City and Todd is in Michigan) and traveling to Atlanta specifically to cheer on the Tech Team at the Publix Georgia Marathon and Half this weekend.

Jen Lesshafft is the Alumni Relations Coordinator at Life University in Marietta, Ga. She has been an avid supporter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society since 2008 when her then 18-month-old nephew was diagnosed with leukemia. As a way to help and give back, Jen interned with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Northern Florida while studying at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Each year since her nephew’s diagnosis, she and her husband, Chris, have raised funds and participated in Light the Night Walks in Atlanta, Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. She now serves on TNT Georgia Chapter’s Social Media & PR Committee.

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