ATO members Walk Hard to raise funds

Published 6:58 pm Friday, March 7, 2014


Joseph Mitchell surveyed the pile of backpacks that had accumulated in the quad Friday morning. The packs belonged to 15 members of Troy University’s Alpha Tau Omega fraternity who had opted to spend their spring breaks on a fundraising trek to raise money for the Wounded Warrior project.

Before their shoes ever touched the asphalt, the organization had raised $10,000, twice as much as last year.

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In the next few days, the 15 members will walk about 21 miles a day until they reach their destination at 4 p.m. Wednesday: Panama City Beach. They planned to continue raising money, collecting what they could along the way.

Mitchell took a few days off work to show some support. He took walk last year and knows better than anyone what these 15 walkers have ahead of them.

“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.

Mitchell advised his brothers as much as he could. The first lesson was what to pack.

“Nothing … literally,” he said. He recommended one change of clothes, water and “socks, lots of socks,” he said.

Mitchell lifted each backpack and gave his approval to those who had paid attention to his advice. He shook his head at the heavy ones whose owners had packed slingshots and toys to make the trip more fun.

Mitchell predicted that no one would care about any of that by the end of day one.

The walkers will spend two of the nights in churches along the way. They will make due with sleeping bags the rest of the nights.

Randy Ross, Pike County’s director of Veterans Affairs, said he was proud of the sacrifices the group had made.

“They’ve chosen a worthy cause that helps tend to the needs of our veterans,” he said. “When people think of veterans, they think of World War I and World War II. But, these days, more and more of our veterans look like these kids. And this money will help those who come back without a limb or suffering from PTSD.”

Brandon Stoudenmier, coordinator of the fifth annual Walk Hard event, said more than 25 of the fraternity’s 75 members had volunteered to participate in Walk Hard. He had to choose 15 from the pool of volunteers.

Desert Storm veteran Billy Williams attended his second Walk Hard send-off. He continued a military coin challenge he started last year. He “coined” two of the walkers, passing them a coin in a handshake and challenged them to make it to the end of the walk where they could pass the coin back to him. One was a Wounded Warrior coin, the other had the Lord’s Prayer.

“What they are doing is fantastic,” Williams said.

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