Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) will embark on Walk Hard, a six-day, 128.3-mile walk to Panama City Beach, Florida, on March 8 to support wounded veterans.
The walk will begin on Troy University’s quad on Friday, March 8 and finish on the Pier Park pier in Panama City Beach on Wednesday, March 13.
The event is held in support of Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures, a ministry that works with wounded veterans by sharing the Gospel and giving them the opportunity to participate in outdoor activities, such as hunting and fishing.
According to its website, the group’s goal “is to facilitate the healing of spirit, soul, and body through activities at no cost to these heroes.”
All ATO members can participate in the event.
Nick Gentili, a junior communications major from Panama City, Florida, said he is walking this year in honor of the veterans Outdoor Adventures has helped.
“These men and women have given so much for us to live freely,” Gentili said. “A six-day walk is really no comparison.”
To prepare for the event, Gentili said he went on several practice walks, learned how to tape his feet and researched the best socks and shoes to wear for the walk. He has worn the same pair of new shoes every day for several weeks to break them in.
Despite all these preparations, Gentili said there isn’t really a way to sufficiently prepare physically for such a long walk.
Jake Simonetti, a sophomore risk management insurance major from Alabaster, is also walking. He said his biggest challenge is going to be the psychological toll of the walk.
“In between the ears is going to be the toughest thing to deal with,” Simonetti said.
The people walking aren’t the only ones participating in Walk Hard. Backing them up and providing food and lodging is the support team.
The support team is responsible for finding places for the walkers to stay each night and establishing checkpoints along the route. These checkpoints provide water and a place for medical treatment in case of emergencies.
Michael Ingram, a risk management insurance major from Helena, is on this year’s support team.
He said he was inspired to help by the sacrifice of veterans and making the walk last year and remembering how hard it was.
“It was a no-brainer to give up my spring break in honor of them,” said Ingram, who also cited John 15:13, which says that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Walk Hard participants will start each day of the walk at 5 a.m. They will depart at 6 a.m. and walk for eight to 12 hours.
Participants will eat lunch (usually consisting of sandwiches and fruit) on the road each day. Ingram said this usually involves tossing these bag lunches to participants from the support vehicles.
At night, participants typically sleep on cots set up in churches located along the route. The support team is in charge of making sure each stop is ready before the walkers get there.
Gus McKenzie, this year’s director of Walk Hard, said the planning process for the walk takes around two months. He said planning for this year’s walk began as soon as he got back from Christmas break.
McKenzie said Walk Hard is a worthwhile sacrifice of his spring break.
“You could go to the beach, or you can find that time to influence your community and do something productive,” McKenzie said.
Students who aren’t walking can still follow the event on the Walk Hard Facebook page at Facebook.com/ATOWalkHard.