Inspired to Help Others

(Photo above): John Killen Jr. (left) started the tomSTRONG 5K Run/Walk/Roll in honor of fellow Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother Tom Babb (middle). This year’s event chair, Mitch Simmons (right), hopes for another successful race.​

In December 2015, a traumatic injury over winter break left then-freshman Tom Babb paralyzed. Amidst all the uncertainty during recovery in his hometown of Evergreen, Colo., Babb knew one thing for sure: he was going to find a way to come back to KU.

Almost immediately after the accident, fellow Beta Theta Pi fraternity members began thinking of how they could honor Babb. John Killen Jr., fraternity philanthropy chair and Babb’s pledge dad, led the effort. Inspired by his love of running, Killen began planning a race — and the tomSTRONG 5K Run/Walk/Roll was born.

Babb knew immediately that he wanted the money raised to benefit other students with disabilities who need assistance on campus. He said he wanted to encourage students who had experienced a traumatic injury by making it easier for them to attend KU. By race day, more than $48,000 was raised for the Tom Babb Student Accessibility Scholarship, and 785 people had signed up to run.

“I think the best part about it was Tom coming back and being welcomed back by hundreds if not over a thousand people that day with love, warmth and compassion for him,” Killen said.

Last April, Babb returned to campus for the first time since his injury to attend the tomSTRONG 5K. He said it felt surreal to see so many people come together for his cause. It was then that he learned renovations were already underway at his fraternity house to make it more accessible, made possible by donations from fraternity alumni.

“That’s when it became real that I was coming back to KU,” Babb said.

This fall, Babb returned to the fraternity and is enrolled in classes at the university. Current Beta Theta Pi philanthropy chair Mitch Simmons is looking forward to another successful 5K on April 23, 2017. Simmons said he wants this race to always be a reminder to people of how lucky we all are and how quickly things can change, something that Babb talks about often. In the face of hardship, though, Babb has chosen to thrive. His determination and sense of humor inspire fellow fraternity members.

“Everyone says that I’m inspiring, but it’s more inspiring for me to be back and see this as a new challenge,” Babb said.


To support the Tom Babb Student Accessibility Scholarship, contact Beth Bucklin at 785-832-7477 or