It's about more than a race

The annual Steelers Run and Walk on Pittsburgh's North Shore is the perfect opportunity for runners and walkers alike to enjoy a morning of physical fitness with the City of Pittsburgh as a backdrop and Acrisure Stadium as the finish line.

Steelers legend Aaron Smith, who will be inducted into the Steelers Hall of Honor, served as the honorary chairperson for the event, which also had a virtual aspect again this year, allowing fans from across the country to take part.

While there was plenty of excitement and energy from the participants, there was another side to it as well.

It's an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, as the race benefits the Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research and the Art Rooney Scholarship Fund.

The Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research was launched by the Steelers in 2016 to support continued research and education regarding brain injuries and treatment of sports-related concussions in honor of Noll, the late Hall of Fame coach. The Foundation funds research that it believes is the most promising in the area of sports-related concussions and related conditions. To help best evaluate which research programs to fund, some of the most renowned neurosurgeons in the country serve on a national medical advisory panel.

The Art Rooney Scholarship Fund, named after Steelers' founder Art Rooney Sr., annually provides a grant to a North Catholic High School student and funds the Pittsburgh Promise scholarships for two students graduating from Pittsburgh high schools who are residents of the North Side.

The three winners of the Art Rooney Scholarships for 2023 are Rigel Everett Weakland from North Catholic High School, who will attend Penn State University and major in Engineering, and Rooney Scholars of the Pittsburgh Promise Brianna Starkey from Perry High School, who will attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania and major in Nursing, and Kenian Williams, also from Perry High School, who will attend CCAC and major in Business and Political Science.

For all of them, the scholarship provides an opportunity to continue their education while alleviating some of the stress of how to pay for all of the expenses it comes with.

"It's an honor. I wasn't expecting it," said Weakland. "Five of us were nominated, and I thought it was cool to be nominated but didn't think I would win anything. It was a surprise. I have always worked hard at academics. I would never have thought it would come to this, even though I worked hard in high school.

"And it coming from the Steelers. I love that it came from them. I have been watching them all my life. It's amazing, especially being chosen by a professional football team."

Weakland said he loves to play backyard football with his family, but while at North Catholic participated in track, cross country, wresting and the marching band. His plan now is to focus on his education at Penn State, a school he wasn't sure he was going to be able to swing because of tuition costs.

"It definitely helps out," said Weakland. "It takes a pretty heavy burden off my dad, who is self-employed, and my mom, who is a stay-at-home mom. This really lifts a weight off my parent's back and my back. If my parents are stressed, I am stressed. Penn State is a pretty good chunk of change, and I was wondering if I should go to a branch campus first then transfer to save money. So, it worked out."

Williams, who moved to the Pittsburgh area from Jamacia when he was in ninth grade, might not have the long-standing familiarity with football and the NFL, but he equally appreciates the Steelers helping him with his college endeavors.

"First off, I am really honored to be selected for it," said Williams. "It's a rare occurrence you see people like me win these kinds of scholarships. But I did do the hard work and I am excited it was finally recognized. I am grateful to the people who nominated me, but especially the Steelers. It's such an honor.

"I don't play sports. Athletics to me are all in my brain. And you rarely see kids from my school winning scholarships like this. It's good that the Steelers have this scholarship for kids on the North Side. Kids on the North Side normally don't have the opportunity to do that."

Williams, who comes from a single-parent family, said the scholarship will cover his tuition at CCAC, allowing him to save for when he takes it to the next level. 

"It's going to help me a lot," said Williams. "The scholarship pays for my entire tuition. Now I can save up all the money I would use for college and when I go to a four-year university, I can save that money to pay for it. My family is just my mom and sister. It takes a huge burden off of her."

Williams is not just grateful to the Steelers, but also the Pittsburgh Promise, which late Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris was a huge part of. Williams wanted to honor Harris' legacy by wearing his jersey to the Steelers-Bills preseason game, when the scholarship winners were honored, but things didn't turn out as he planned.

"I wouldn't say I am a diehard football fan. I have a couple of players I do support," said Williams. "On game day, I wanted to get a Franco Harris jersey because he was close with the Pittsburgh Promise and founding that. It wouldn't be possible without him. I wanted to wear his jersey to the game, but when I sent my mom to go get the jersey, she didn't know his number, that he was No. 32, so she bought the other (Najee) Harris, No. 22, which is fine. They are both good players. I wore that jersey instead of the one I was going to wear.

"I am also a fan of Cam Heyward, because he gave me a suit, my first suit, through his foundation Suiting up for Success. I am a big fan of his."

Take a look at photos of the Annual Steelers 5k Race and Kids Fun Run, benefiting the Art Rooney Scholarship Fund and the Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research

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