ATO Walk Hard 2024 takes first steps in ‘March to the Sea’ with Quad send off

Jeep Sullivan and veterans lead TROY's Kappa Beta Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity from the Quad Friday for Walk Hard 2024.

Jeep Sullivan and veterans lead TROY's Kappa Beta Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity from the Quad Friday for Walk Hard 2024.

Troy University senior Gabe Meredith never intended on walking again after his first Alpha Tau Omega Walk Hard event, but the fraternity’s annual Spring Break philanthropy hike from the Quad to Panama City Beach is a source of inspiration.

“I never intended on being someone that would walk all four years, but after seeing the impact that Walk Hard has had on so many lives, I haven’t been able to stay away,” he said.

Begun by four ATO brothers in 2009, Walk Hard raises funds for wounded veterans through area mission Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures, based in Bonifay, FL. The brothers hike 128.3 miles over six days of their spring break. Along the way, they traverse the cities of Troy, Enterprise, Hartford, Bonifay, Vernon, Ebro and PCB.

Gabe Meredith is hiking for his fourth year in ATO's Walk Hard. (TROY photo/Joey Meredith)
Gabe Meredith is hiking for his fourth year in ATO’s Walk Hard. (TROY photo/Joey Meredith)

“People ask ‘why’ a lot, and my answer has always been ‘because I’m able to.’ The blisters and joint pain hurt, but they are absolutely nothing compared to what these brave veterans have gone through for us,” Meredith said. “We always love showing veterans that they are not alone, that people care for them, and they have our support.”

Jeep Sullivan, a retired Baptist preacher, developed his mission to wounded veterans to take them hunting, fishing, and participate in other outdoor activities.

“Our outdoor adventures in the wild and on the water, coupled with Christ-centered ministry seeks to address and heal the mental wounds related to combat, particularly those wounds related to PTSD,” Sullivan said. “Our goal is to heal spirit, soul, and body. In the process, they join a network of good men and build friendships that last long after the outdoor adventure is over.”

As much as the mission helps the veterans build a network, Walk Hard helps the brothers of the Kappa Beta Chapter at TROY forge stronger relationships with one another.

“The relationships that I have been able to build and foster through Walk Hard have been second to none. It is a mental and physical test that requires both leaning on your brothers and being the shoulder that they can lean on. Those things are what have inspired me and what will continue to inspire me throughout not just Walk Hard, but my life after college,” Meredith said.

Jeep Sullivan encourages brothers of TROY's Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and leads prayer prior to the Walk Hard 2024 send off from the Quad. (TROY photo/Clif Lusk)
Jeep Sullivan encourages brothers of TROY’s Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and leads prayer prior to the Walk Hard 2024 send off from the Quad. (TROY photo/Clif Lusk)

This year’s Walk Hard Director is Nick Marshall, who served as assistant director on last year’s Walk Hard and has made the hike himself. He said Walk Hard is more than just a hike, but a year-round activity for the chapter.

“We meet every week with the group. Jeep comes in with motivational messages at different points and involves veterans with the Walk Hard group at different points leading up to the walk, so everyone is really dedicated to Walk Hard,” he said. “It’s not easy, but it is very worth the struggle.”

There’s even a Walk Hard event for the sororities to expand the understanding of the event to other Greeks on campus. “Girls Walk Harder” is a six-mile hike through Troy and gives the girls a sample of the experience the ATO brothers will have.

Since its inception, Walk Hard has raised more than $650,000 for the non-profit mission, and has hit $125,000 in each of the last two years. Many donations are made online prior to the event, and corporate sponsors make contributions as well, but the grand total is revealed only at the completion of hike at the entrance of the pier.

The reason is simple, Marshall said. 

“We get donations all along the way from people who come out to encourage us and to support the veterans who are the beneficiaries. What the total is depends on the Walk itself and what’s raised along the way,” he said.

Thirty-six hikers, support crew members, and veterans kick of ATO's Walk Hard 2024. (TROY photo/Joey Meredith)
Thirty-six hikers, support crew members, and veterans kick of ATO’s Walk Hard 2024. (TROY photo/Joey Meredith)
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