ATO begins ‘Walk Hard’ trek today

Published 3:00 am Friday, March 3, 2017

Troy University’s chapter of Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) will send 37 hikers on their way to Panama City Beach today on the first leg of the annual “Walk Hard” event.

The fraternity brothers will hike a total of 128.3 miles over the next six days to raise money for Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures, a charity that provides hunting, fishing and fellowship opportunities to veterans and combat wounded military personnel.

Dash Merritt, director of the walk, said that it is the hardest and most rewarding thing for those who participate.

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“It’s grueling, its long ; the walkers will get blisters and infections,” Merritt said. “But it’s really nice because this pain they’re experiencing while they’re walking by themselves, they really get to reflect on why they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

“Every night, we have a different wounded warrior that gets to share their story with the guys and it’s an awesome reminder of why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

ATO started the annual walk in 2009 as a way to do something beneficial during spring break, at first raising money for a national nonprofit before shifting to support the local charity based out of Bonifay, Florida.

“It’s definitely something we’re proud of,” Merritt said. “While other people are partying over spring break, we’re doing this. It’s great for us to have a personal relationship with Jeep and meet these wounded warriors and get to hear their story.”

Merritt said that the walk has allowed Jeep Sullivan to expand the charity and for Sullivan’s wife to retire and minister to the wives of the veterans. The charity brings in wounded warriors from around the wiregrass region, and they will be interacting with walkers along the way.

The group participated in a two-mile walk Monday from the campus to the Square to kickoff the event during a downpour of rain. Merritt said that no weather could dampen the spirits of the walkers though.

“Honestly, the guys are so excited they didn’t care,” Merritt said. “They’ve been preparing for this since the very first week of school. These guys are motivated and because we’ve been exposed to these wounded warriors, there’s nothing that can stop them… They have an attitude of ‘bring it on.’”

Those looking to keep up with the hikers over the walk can find their Facebook page “Alpha Tau Omega Walk Hard.” The page includes bios of the 37 fraternity brothers participating in the hike and will be updated with video recaps at the end of each day. It is also where people can find the group’s GoFundMe page, which Merritt said is the primary way to donate.