When runners and walkers take part in the 23rd Annual Gatorade/Steelers 5K Race, Fitness Walk and Kids' Kickoff Run at Heinz Field on Sept. 4 the last thing on their mind is probably a college education. Instead they are monitoring their pace, checking the distance or just enjoying a morning walk near Heinz Field.
But their participation in the event means far more to three recent high school graduates. It means an opportunity of a lifetime, as the walk benefits the Art Rooney Scholarship Fund.
"It gives me the chance to get a higher education," said Mercedes Velasquez, a Perry High School graduate who is going to Chatham University to study pre-med. "It's everything I have dreamed of - getting to go to school without having to burden my mom with money problems.
"My mom is a single mother. It would have put a burden on her which is not what I wanted. She is going to school too and has to pay for that. The financial side is a lot to go through. It wouldn't have been enough to go to the school I wanted to go to without this. The Steelers organization has really helped me."
Each year a $12,000 scholarship in the name of Art Rooney Sr. is presented to a graduating senior from Perry and North Catholic High Schools, as well as one through the Pittsburgh Promise. The schools and Pittsburgh Promise nominates students who have been accepted to college and are in need of financial aid.
The 2011 scholarship winners are Velasquez, Mary Kay Krawczak from North Catholic and Trevon Kendrick from Oliver, who received his through the Pittsburgh Promise.
"It's pretty amazing," said Krawczak, who will study pre-pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh. "I am the first in my family to attend college. Neither of my parents attended college and it's very hard to afford it. Winning the scholarship has made it so much easier to afford my education. My parents were really excited. I can now set an example for my little sister and older brother as well."
Velasquez, Krawczak and Kendrick, who played football at Oliver and will attend Slippery Rock, were honored before the Steelers-Eagles preseason game at Heinz Field.
"I am a Steelers fan, but I had never been to a Steelers game before," said Krawczak. "I was so overwhelmed and excited at the same time. I didn't even know there were scholarships like the Steelers one. When I heard about it I was really excited they would give out a college scholarship."
She wasn't the only one who was surprised to earn a scholarship from the Steelers
"I never knew the Steelers had a scholarship for regular students," said Velasquez. "I thought it would be for people in athletics. I grew up black and gold. It means a lot."
For more information or to participate in the race, please click on Gatorade/Steelers 5K.