Military veterans Gabriel Sistrunk and Manny Acosta lead the brothers of Alpha Tau Omega up the first hill of Walk Hard 2019. (TROY photo/J. Meredith)
For 34 Alpha Tau Omega brothers at Troy University, Friday morning marked the beginning of more than just a 130-mile hike. It marked the beginning of an odyssey.
Troy’s Kappa Beta chapter launched their Walk Hard 2019 fundraising hike from the Troy Campus to Panama City Beach’s Pier Park in an effort to raise $60,000 for wounded veterans through Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures, a non-profit based in Bonifay, Fla.
It marked the fraternity’s 10th year of the fundraiser.
“A lot has led up to this moment,” said sophomore walker Josh Marvin. “I heard about Walk Hard in high school, so this is a really big moment for me – a watershed moment. It’s a physical test for me. It’s a test of character for me.”
“Today, we’re walking and I’m going to the beach,” he said.
Marvin, like the other walkers, sees this as much more than a spring break adventure.
“I think this is one of the noblest things we can do – give up our life for someone else. It’s just a small way we can exemplify that,” he said.
Jeep Sullivan, a retired Baptist minister, says the support the brothers gives his organization is the largest fundraiser in his year, but it’s more about providing lessons for the students as well as service to America’s wounded veterans he supports.
“It helps them realize freedom isn’t free, and it helps out veterans greatly,” he said.
In fact, several brothers accompany veterans on Sullivan-sponsored outings throughout the year and learn first-hand about the people they are helping.
“I’m going to be thing about them (the veterans) all the way,” said Braden Manuel, another sophomore on his first Walk Hard outing.
“I’m a little nervous, but I’m excited,” he said before leaving the Quad.
Manuel bolstered by an address from Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr., who spoke to the fraternity at a sendoff at 7:30 a.m.
“It’s cool to see someone like Dr. Hawkins who is a brother talk to us and lift us up. I know he’s going to be praying for us and it’s good to know we have his support,” he said.
The Walk Hard 2019 trek will take the hikers down Alabama 167, through Enterprise on Saturday and toward the Florida state line. They will be in Bonifay, Fla. Sunday night and strike out toward Vernon, Fla. on Monday.
The walk culminates with a 3:30 p.m. parade from the Panama City Beach Welcome Center to Pier Park on Wednesday, March 13. The brothers won’t stop until they reach the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
A photo gallery from today’s sendoff can be viewed here: https://troyuniversity.photoshelter.com/galleries/C0000nqOdvDo1FHQ/G0000oADI_y9Hx4I/20190308-ATO-Walk-Hard