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Tips and Advice for Taking on the Eagles Autism Challenge

Mar 20, 2019

Assistant Project Director of Transition Pathways in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute Jackie Abrams stands before the finish line inside Lincoln Financial Field at the 2018 Eagles Autism Challenge.
Assistant Project Director of Transition Pathways in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute Jackie Abrams stands before the finish line inside Lincoln Financial Field at the 2018 Eagles Autism Challenge.

For the second year in a row, Drexel University is gearing up to participate in the Eagles Autism Challenge (EAC), which debuted last year for runners, walkers and bikers to raise money for autism research alongside players, coaches, cheerleaders and Swoop from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Last year’s first-ever Eagles Autism Challenge raised more than $2.5 million to fund autism research with beneficiaries including the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. Drexel received $805,000 to fund future research.

This year’s event will be held May 18 at Lincoln Financial Field. Drexel faculty and staff have the opportunity to join “Team Drexel University” to participate and raise funds. Dragons can participate in a 5K or 15-, 30- and 50-mile bike ride, and the first 200 employees to use the promo code DRAGONS19 will receive $50 off of registration. 

On the fence about signing up? DrexelNow asked some of last year’s participants to share what they learned for last year’s event and offer advice to people who are thinking about joining. Plus: all three participants have already signed up for this year’s event!

Jessica Rast, MPH ’14, research associate in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, stands next to the Vince Lombardi trophy. She was a virtual participant in last year's Eagles Autism Challenge and will run in this year's event.

Name: Jessica Rast, MPH ’14

Title: Research Associate in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute

EAC Claim to Fame: Rast was the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s top fundraiser last year, raising over $6,000 as a virtual participant.

Q: What advice would you give in terms of fundraising? How did you raise the money?

A: You never know who in your network has a connection to autism, and who will really want to be involved in this event. I reached out to family and friends, and it turned out that a family member had a connection to autism that I wasn’t fully aware of. He was really interested in the event, and although he couldn’t participate himself, he became very activated around fundraising. He was a huge help in connecting me to people he knew would also want to be a part of this cause. Not only did this connection make a financial impact on my fundraising, but it helped me grow closer to my family and his networks.

I have been working in the autism field for five years, and in that time I have seen so many connections built within and because of this community. It is a great feeling to build these connections and to work within such a rewarding space.

Therefore, my advice is to reach out to everyone. Don’t expect money from everyone, but expect the unexpected. A thoughtful introduction to the event and why and how it impacts you goes a long way in building connections and earning support. You never know the response you’ll get.   

Q: And just wanted to ask — why did you want to be a virtual participant last year?

A: I was a virtual participant last year because I was unable to attend the event. It was the weekend of my husband’s graduation and moving into our first home. Both of our families were here to mark the occasion, and it just didn’t work out for me.

I am planning on running in the 5k and am thrilled to participate this year. I can’t wait to experience the excitement on the field and see all of the people who cared so much to raise money for this amazing cause. Philadelphia is a hub of autism research, and the Eagles are a core part of Philadelphia. I think this event is a perfect showcase of Philly and I am really proud to be a part of it.

Jackie Abrams, assistant project director of Transition Pathways in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, rode her bike to participate in the 2018 Eagles Autism Challenge.

Name: Jackie Abrams

Title: Assistant Project Director of Transition Pathways in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute

EAC Claim to Fame: She biked in last year’s event.

Q: Last year, DrexelNow published a story about your participation in the Eagles Autism Challenge. When asked for a tip about fundraising, you mentioned making it known that you’re doing this — would you still say that’s a good way to earn awareness/funding? Anything else?

A: I still think that “making it known” is important. If family, friends, etc. don’t know you are participating, then they won’t donate. Simple as that! I have done this by activating my social networks and sending out emails to family and friends. 

Although, it was torrential downpour last year, the event was awesome! There was a comradery in the air that made it really fun. It certainly helped that people were still feeling the Super Bowl win! 

Q: What was last year’s event like? How did you prepare for it? How many family/friends did it with you?

A: My boyfriend, Scott, and I did it last year and we are doing it again this year. We love biking so it is a great excuse to do what we love, do it together, for a cause we care about, and with the Eagles. 

My dad also planned to ride with us last year, but his red-eye flight was delayed and he missed the start of the ride. He was really disappointed. He had his bike and bike gear waiting for him in the parking lot of the PHL Airport for when he landed. 

Paul Turcotte, MPH ’14, research associate II in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, ran a 5k in last year's Eagles Autism Challenge.

Name: Paul Turcotte, MPH ’14

Title: Research Associate II in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute

EAC Claim to Fame: He ran in last year’s event.

Q: What advice would you give in terms of fundraising that you learned last year/are doing this year?

A: I learned that reaching out to as many people as you know will help you reach your goal quickly. Having an important message about the difference the EAC makes in the lives of the people that are served by the research and projects at these institutions lets people know that every little bit helps.

Q: What was last year’s event like? What did you like about it? How did you prepare/get ready for it? Any advice with training to run/running in the event?

A: Last year it was rainy, but that made it an amazing experience. To be able to run into the Linc and see the stadium from the field was incredible. Everyone was soaked but having people show up and be in it together made it a unique experience, and one I won’t forget.

I started my 5k training about five weeks out and made sure that I ran at least a few times a week. I would say set a pace you feel you can manage at the start and stick with it. Don’t start out too fast otherwise you will burn out!

Need more inspiration? Check out this photo recap of last year's Eagles Autism Challenge!