Jennifer Stenga started crying when she got the call. She said she was just so excited.
The person on the line told her she had been accepted to compete — during halftime of the Pac-12 Football Championship — for $100,000 in tuition money.
“This would be amazing, such a blessing,” the 23-year-old Soldotna resident said. “It would pay for all of my graduate tuition, so I would come out with no loans or anything.”
Stenga is in her first year in a doctorate program studying pediatric occupational therapy in Anchorage through Creighton University. She, and thousands of other Americans, submitted videos in a DrPepper competition explaining why they should win the $100,000 prize to pay for their education.
If she passes the preliminary contest Thursday, she and one other will compete throwing footballs into a two-foot wide opening in a DrPepper can replica during halftime in Stanford Stadium on Friday for the prize money. Contestants have 30 seconds to score as many as they can.
With her education, Stenga wants to open an occupational therapy office in Soldotna. But it would only be the launch pad for a larger operation.
“I’m just a small-town girl with a big dream,” she said. “I know sometimes people think sometimes you can’t go far in a small town, but you can.”
She said she wants her services to reach beyond just the Kenai Peninsula with her office, because there is a greater need in remote villages.
“There’s so many children who don’t get service, and more so in the remote areas,” she said. “As Alaska expands, there’s going to be more of a need for practitioners.”
She said she is trying to figure out how to conduct therapy statewide, but she is still brainstorming.
“I think more so than opening clinics (in smaller villages), we’d just fly out therapists, like once a week, traveling therapists to the smaller communities,” she said.
Stenga said she initially wanted to be a pediatrician because she always had a passion for “kiddos.”
“I’ve always loved kids and working with kids,” she said, “and I just really connect with children. So I just kind of feel like it’s my calling in my life, to do whatever I can to help kids.”
When Stenga got the phone call earlier in November, she and her fiancé were driving to Anchorage.
When they came back, they had three new footballs that are now worn and tattered.
To practice her throw, her fiancé hung a tire from a tree in their back yard.
At the peak of her training, Stenga said she would throw 50 to 100 passes a day at the tire, because she said she needed work on her throw.
“I’m hoping that my basketball experience will carry over into the football world,” she said. “We’ll see.”
And so will everyone else. ABC will broadcast Friday’s game across the country.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.