By Paul Bonnette
In May of 2021, WMBB Reporter Tess Rowland had a head-on collision with a drunk driver driving down the wrong side of the road. Miraculously, Rowland survived, though she suffered multiple broken bones and internal injuries. Her recovery involved seven surgeries, metal plates, and screws. Two years later she still lives with daily pain. Rowland has taken that traumatic experience and embarked on a mission to spread awareness of the dangers of drunk driving as the National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
On Saturday, September 23, MADD’s Northwest Florida Chapter will be hosting its signature fundraising event “Walk Like MADD & MADD DASH 5K” at Gulf Coast State College. The organization will also be holding the second annual #TessStrong Food Truck Fest which includes plenty of food trucks, giveaways from sponsors, and even a safety fair with activities from local first responders including a drunk goggle obstacle course.
According to Rowland, this 5k event and food truck fest is all about bringing the community together to prevent drunk and impaired driving. “Our events such as Walk Like MADD [help] bring together the community to take a step toward the future of no more victims of this 100% preventable crime,” she explains. For Rowland, combining the organization’s popular 5k event with an inaugural food truck fest last year proved to be a massive success and one that she is excited to bring back in September.
“It is a variation of our Walk Like MADD event which is one of our biggest fundraisers and we are also combining the #TessStrong Food Truck Fest, says Rowland. “The TessStrong Fest was an idea that was born last year… I wanted to bring together the community, both law enforcement as well as local businesses and the general population for a fun event to educate people and really make people aware of what drunk driving is, how prevalent it is unfortunately in the Panama City area, and how it could be prevented.”Last year proved how popular the addition of the TessStrong Food Truck Fest would be as the event raised thousands of dollars to not only go toward preventing drunk driving but to support victims as well.
For Kristen Allen, the Affiliate Executive Director of MADD, the event promises to have something for everyone. “It’s like two events in one,” she explains. “Since we have the walkers and runners coming to this event we just thought it would make sense to do the second annual TessStrong Food Truck Fest. More people will come from the community to do the interactive activities that we have with law enforcement.”
MADD’s signature Walk Like MADD and MADD Dash 5k event start at 9:30 a.m. at Gulf Coast State College. Entry is free, but there is a minimal fee for runners and 5k walkers. The #TessStrong Food Truck event runs until 2 p.m. at Carl Gray Park on Collegiate Drive. Everyone who finishes the race will receive a finisher’s medal and a mini doughnut from one of the food trucks. For more information on this event and to register for the Walk Like MADD/MADD Dash 5k please visit madd.itsyourrace.com.