ATO’s Walk Hard 2024 raises $105K for wounded veterans

35 brothers of Alpha Tau Omega completed the annual 128.3-mile hike.

35 brothers of Alpha Tau Omega completed the annual 128.3-mile hike.

Exhaustion, endurance, elation—these feelings were a common theme after 35 brothers of Troy University’s Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity ran into the waves at Panama City Beach, Fla., Thursday afternoon after completing a 128.3 mile, six-day walk in support of wounded veterans that raised $105,000. 

The fraternity’s annual Spring Break philanthropy event, Walk Hard, was started by four ATO brothers in 2009 and helps to raise funds for Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures, based in Bonifay, Fla. On the Friday before Spring Break, the group begins the journey to Pier Park in Panama City Beach from TROY’s Quad. 

Along their “March to the Sea,” they pass through Troy, Enterprise, Hartford, Bonifay, Vernon, Ebro and eventually PCB. They also hear inspirational messages and words of encouragement from veterans at their nightly rest stops, like Retired Army Sergeant First Class Daniel Stamaris, who got involved with Walk Hard about five years ago.

Stamaris met the group before the trek over Hathaway Bridge into Panama City Beach and walked with them the rest of the way.

Walkers cross over the Hathaway Bridge into Panama City.
Walkers cross over the Hathaway Bridge into Panama City.

“I join them for the last part of the walk to support them for what they’re doing for us veterans,” he said. “To take time out from Spring Break and walk over 128 miles to support veterans…and some of them have done this three or four times now. It’s amazing. The first time is a challenge, but to come out again and again to support veterans is amazing to me. God bless them all for what they’re doing.”

Tobias Mandell, a sophomore exercise science major from Pensacola, Fla., walked for the first time and said he was inspired after seeing his fraternity brothers complete last year’s walk. The cause was also a personal one—his father served 30 years in the Army and his mother was a pilot in the Navy.

“I watched them all walk in and saw how much it meant to so many people,” he said. “I’ve been around veterans all my life and I’m always looking for ways to give back to them. I’m honored and privileged to be among a group of guys that would do something like this and impact as many lives as it does.”

When asked what he felt when he touched sand for the first time, Mandell’s answer was simple: “elation.”

“All the pain that’s been in my body for the last week all dissolved as soon as I touched sand,” he said. “Nothing but smiles.”

Since inception, Walk Hard has raised more than $650,000 for the non-profit mission. Online donations are made prior to the event, along with corporate sponsors and contributions, but the grand total is revealed only at the completion of the hike.

“As soon as you see the beach, it’s all worth it,” said sophomore Caleb Merritt, a risk management and insurance major from Gulf Breeze, Fla., another first-time walker along with his twin brother, Logan. “Having all the supporters, seeing the big check at the end, bonding with your brothers. I wanted to be a part of this cause and make an impact. It was 100 percent worth it.”

A gallery of images from the week can be found here.

The Walk Hard 2024 walkers and their support brothers.
The Walk Hard 2024 walkers and their support brothers.