PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — It was a spring break to remember for 36 college students on Wednesday, as they completed a 128.3 mile walk from Troy University in Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico shoreline in Panama City Beach.
“Everybody’s got a little bit of a wobble going on,” said a freshman Alpha Tau Omega member.
“My right foot is entirely covered in blisters,” said junior Andrew Clem. “Joint pains, hip pains as well, [but I’m] still smiling.”
Brothers of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity at Troy University said they do it every year for an important cause; “Walk Hard” raises money for Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures. The charity gives veterans struggling with PTSD, depression and more the opportunity to spend time with other veterans through outdoor activities like hunting trips and other adventures.
“My wife’s dad was a Vietnam veteran and three-purple hearted in Vietnam,” Sullivan said. “We saw where the VA just gives out drugs instead of something a little better, so we said, we can do something.”
Since founding the organization, veterans have said it’s given them new hope in life, as many struggle with suicidal thoughts. For veterans like Daniel Stamaris, who was deployed for Operation Desert Storm, the organization has helped him to know he’s not alone.
“You think nobody’s been through what I’ve been through but there’s lots of veterans that have been through it,” Stamaris said. “It just helps us to develop a good camaraderie with one another.”
This year’s “Walk Hard” event raised $90 thousand for the charity, a record amount for ATO at Troy University.
“These kids, what they’ve done, I mean they took time off of their spring break to walk for us, to raise money so that we can do these outdoor adventures,” Stamaris said. “It gets me choked up. I really, sometimes I get very emotional about it.”
“You just see the goodness of who America is coming out in these guys,” Sullivan said.
The brothers said although it’s a difficult challenge, it’s well worth it; some have completed the walk multiple times.
“These guys have been in combat fighting for our freedoms,” said one brother.
They finished the 6-day trip on Wednesday afternoon, greeted by their friends and family at the entrance to Pier Park to walk them to the beach.
“It’s the best feeling to come out here with all your brothers, and to see all your friends and family out here,” said one of the walkers, holding back tears. “Just to know that you came all the way here to raise money for such an important cause, I just can’t describe it honestly.”
To learn more about Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures, click here.