“We are more than conquerors.”
Josh Marvin read these words in a letter of support from his brother and burst into tears, nearly at his breaking point. Despite the pain in his feet, Marvin, a sophomore risk management insurance major from Alabaster, found the strength to keep walking through the exhaustion.
He and 35 others were halfway through Alpha Tau Omega’s 128.3-mile “Walk Hard” from Troy University to the pier in Panama City Beach, Florida, reading letters of encouragement from their families.
ATO members make the six-day trek every year to support Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures. Sullivan’s ministry helps veterans suffering physical or psychological injuries heal by taking them on outdoor excursions, like hunting or fishing and sharing the Gospel with them.
According to Gus McKenzie, who directed this year’s Walk Hard event, ATO raised more than $71,000 for Sullivan’s ministry. He said they exceeded their fundraising goal by $11,000.
ATO held a few fundraising events before the walk, such as Wings for Warriors and a raffle.
People and businesses also donated to Sullivan’s ministry, some choosing to donate $128.30 to match the distance the participants walked.
Marvin said the walk humbled everyone involved.
“You are not the cream of the crop,” he said, adding that no matter how strong or athletic anyone was, everyone was hurting by the end of the walk.
According to Marvin, the walk started off with excitement and adrenaline. The walkers left from Troy University’s main quad on the Friday morning just before spring break.
Around mile 12, out of the 28 miles walkers traveled the first day, Marvin said the difficulty of the walk ahead really started to sink in.
According to Marvin, the third day was the hardest, describing it as the “closest thing to hell” he’s ever experienced. He said that’s when the pain really kicked in.
That night, after having walked another 24 miles, participants received letters of support from family, friends and others.
Devin Gillian, a junior athletic training major from Montgomery, was a member of this year’s support team. Part of his job was to contact participants’ families and arrange these letters in the weeks leading up to the walk.
Gillian made the walk before and wanted to help others make the walk. Only ATO members who have walked before can work on the support team.
“It wasn’t so much about getting myself there this year, but getting all 36 guys to the beach,” Gillian said.
Gillian and the support team’s other duties included bringing food to the walkers, setting up checkpoints and preparing a place for everyone to sleep each night.
Most nights were spent in churches along the route. The support team got there ahead of the walkers and set up cots, as well as ice baths and Epsom salt baths to treat sore muscles and aching feet.
Each night, participants heard from a different veteran who had been reached by Sullivan’s ministry.
The walkers spent their last night on the road under a pavilion in Pine Log State Forest in Florida.
The next morning, they embarked on the last 16 miles to the beach. Marvin said he was blown away by the amount of people cheering the walkers on as they entered the final stretch in Panama City Beach.
When he got to the end, Marvin said he dropped his backpack on the beach and sprinted into the ocean, feeling like a huge burden had been lifted off of his shoulders.
What really stuck out to Marvin, he said, was the amount of love he experienced both from his fellow ATO members and everyone who cheered them on along the way.
“You don’t get to know love that big until you experience something like (Walk Hard),” Marvin said.
Despite the pain and the blisters, Marvin said he would make the walk again.
According to McKenzie, this is the first year that all of the participants made it to the end of the walk. In years past, medical emergencies or other situations have forced some to drop out of the walk.
According to Marvin, the biggest lesson he learned from Walk Hard is selflessness.
“There’s no insecurity or boundary in yourself that should prevent you from loving others well,” he said.