Assistant News Editor
The Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity (ATO) will hold its ninth annual Walk Hard event to raise money to support wounded veterans over spring break.
Many of the fraternity’s brothers will walk 128.3 miles to Pier Park in Panama City Beach, Florida, to raise money for Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures Inc., an organization “offering combat wounded veterans and their families opportunities to enjoy God’s great outdoors,” according to its website.
“He takes these wounded vets on hunting, fishing trips around the country, really building a community,” said Sam Moody, a senior risk management major from Montgomery and the director of Walk Hard.
“The community that is built through this organization has literally saved lives, and that’s coming from the veterans that are a part of it, not from myself.”
This is the fourth year ATO has supported Jeep Sullivan. In 2015, the fraternity raised $13,000; in 2016, $28,000; and in 2017, $47,000. This year, ATO’s goal is $50,000, of which $30,000 has been raised.
“Every year our Ministry/Company is the beneficiary of a tremendous monetary gift by some of the most unselfish young college men that I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting,” said Jeep Sullivan in an email. “Walk Hard has brought new meaning to Spring Break as I get to watch and help the ATO walkers with their tired physical and mental bodies give all they have to support our Purple Heart and Combat veterans.
“America’s upcoming leaders are among those who walk on and from your campus.”
According to Moody, the walk to Pier Park takes six days. The brothers leave campus on the Friday before spring break and arrive on Wednesday.
In the beginning years, the brothers ate from their packs and slept on the side of the road, but after gaining notoriety and support from the towns they pass through on the way, they are now able to sleep in churches.
“These local churches, and the women in them, especially, rally around us, and we’ll get in there and they’ve cooked full-blown meals, three-course meals, for these guys,” Moody said.
In addition to the help they receive from the churches, those walking also receive support from a team of brothers who have walked in previous years. This support team delivers water and food to those walking throughout the day.
Each night during the walk, participants hear from a veteran who is supported by Sullivan’s organization “to help our guys remember what they’re doing it for,” Moody said.
Kyle Shook, a junior English major from Pike Road and an ATO brother who walked last year, recalled hearing from a veteran whose vehicle was destroyed in an explosion, in which he lost a limb and was the only survivor. The veteran came home to a broken family and no hope.
“He was very much contemplating suicide when he got in touch with Jeep (Sullivan),” Shook said. “And now, some odd years later, he is still alive and doing well and has hope because Jeep has been such a positive influence on his life.”
Shook described walking through blisters on both feet and joint pain.
“I was counting down on my phone the amount of time until I got to take another set of painkillers, and that’s just kind of how the walk has to go,” he said. “It’s just kind of hard to convince yourself to keep on going on, but that to me is where hearing the veterans comes in.
“That really helped me get through, thinking back to the night before and two nights before where we hear these veterans give their stories and talk about how much Walk Hard means to them. So, you just push on.”
“Freedom is not free,” said Troy Chancellor Jack Hawkins in a statement to the Tropolitan. “It is the result of warriors willing to pay the price.
“The brothers of ATO are to be commended for their willingness to ‘march to the sea’ on behalf of our nation’s wounded warriors. The fraternity demonstrates the best of the Greek system at Troy University.”
Those wishing to support ATO and Walk Hard are encouraged to visit and like the Alpha Tau Omega Walk Hard Facebook page and donate at ato.crowdchange.co/1852.