Rachel Burns is ready. She will face three college students for a chance to win $100,000 in the Dr Pepper Tuition Throw.
The second-year student in the UT College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will travel to Arlington, Texas, Friday, Dec. 1. She’ll have 30 seconds to see how many footballs she can toss into a hole two feet in diameter in a ginormous soda can five yards away.If Burns places first or second, she’ll move to the final round Saturday, Dec. 2, and vie for big money live on national television during halftime of the Big 12 Championship game at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“My family has been huge football fans ever since I can remember. When I was 14 or so, I remember watching these competitions where kids would throw the ball through the cans to get money,” she said.
“When it came time to get scholarships for college, I started looking at my options, and I came across [the Dr Pepper Tuition Throw] again. I thought this is really cool; this is something I want to try. It’s really a one in a million shot because thousands of people apply from all over the country.”
She took her shot — and scored.
In her one-minute application video, the Holland, Ohio, native shared her story.
“I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when I was 7 or 8 years old. When I was diagnosed with the terminal lung disease, they told me I wouldn’t live past the age of 18,” Burns said. “But because of the medical advancements since then, the life expectancy has grown; I just celebrated my 20th birthday.”
Life has been a blur since her phone rang Nov. 10 with the contest news.“A lot of participants start practicing right when they apply. I didn’t want to jinx myself or get my hopes up — thousands of people apply,” she said. “I told my dad and my brother, once we get the call, it’ll be your job to build the exact replica.”
Thanks to a diagram and dimensions supplied by Dr Pepper, her dad, Ray, had the oversized can built in less than two hours, with assistance from her brother, Raymond. They even made the can portable.
Burns has been practicing every day since — in her garage and backyard, at Springfield High School, and in UT’s Fetterman Center.
“We’re trying to mimic the conditions I’ll see in Texas,” she said, adding AT&T Stadium has a retractable roof and likely will be closed. “Practicing in the Fetterman Center has been a huge help; it keeps the conditions as similar as possible.”
The former softball and volleyball player is experimenting with a shot-put style throw.
“You just have to go in with all your heart and trust that either way, this is still an amazing opportunity. Winning any amount of tuition money would take a huge burden off my family. This is going to be a trip of a lifetime, an experience to share with the world, and I’m proud to represent The University of Toledo.”
Twenty college students will participate in the Dr Pepper Tuition Throw, four at five championship games. All are guaranteed $2,500. Second-place finishers will receive $25,000, and winners will take home $100,000 to pay for school.
“I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” Burns said. “Every little bit helps when it comes to paying for college.”
Some say there are no coincidences. Consider these auspicious signs:
• Burns and her family are lifelong fans of the Dallas Cowboys.
• Ray Burns’ birthday is Dec. 1. And Dec. 2 is the birthday of Heather Burns, Rachel’s mom.
• After falling in love with a puppy Burns was training for Rocket Service Dogs, the UT student organization of which she is president, the family brought home an 8-week-old chocolate Labrador retriever and named him Dallas just two days before learning about the competition.
Dr Pepper will cover the cost of the trip for Burns and one person; she’s taking her dad.
“My dad has always wanted to go [to AT&T Stadium]. It’s a win-win for me and for him for his birthday. It’s pretty cool,” she said. “I’m excited; I’ve been practicing; I can’t wait.”