GVSU fraternity raises over $25,000 for MS

Courtesy/GVSU Alpha Tau Omega

Courtesy/GVSU Alpha Tau Omega

Audra Gamble

While the vast majority of students at Grand Valley State University are preparing for a relaxing week off at home or enjoying warmer weather, the men of Alpha Tau Omega are beginning their 160-mile on-foot trek from Kirkhof Center up to Traverse City.

The fraternity will walk along trails in the winter weather to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Last year, the fraternity raised just over $15,000. It has already surpassed its total from last year and has raised more than its goal of $25,000. As of Wednesday night, Alpha Tau Omega has raised $25,437.77.

The 20 participating walkers will begin their journey this morning at 10 a.m. in the Kirkhof Center with a kick-off event featuring a speaker from the Michigan chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and a couple that have written a book about their experiences with MS.

This year will be the second year the fraternity participates in the MS fundraiser, and the members of the fraternity planned all aspects of the walk.

“The timing of our spring break is in the middle of winter, so it took about three to four months of solid planning around the clock,” said Alpha Tau Omega member James Zyrek. “We had to grow from square one. A lot more went in to it than we thought, and the whole time we were flying by the seat of our pants, hoping that we’d get good weather and all these things would work out.”

The walk itself takes place over eight days, with the walkers averaging around 20 miles a day. After walking all day, the fraternity brothers sleep in churches and begin walking again the next morning.

“We kind of just rough it out for eight days, no showers,” Zyrek said.

Though the fraternity members are just walking, their bodies take a significant beating.

“The walk itself, on paper it seems challenging, but not that hard,” Zyrek said. “Only five out of the 15 of us that walked last year made it the whole way without having to stop for injuries. Apparently your body can only take 60 to 80 miles of repetitive impact, and we go 100 miles over that.”

Several of the participants had to stop walking due to injury, including a broken foot and micro tears in another member’s Achilles tendon.

“It’s very much worth every blister, cut, hospital trip or whatever,” Zyrek said. “I was literally dragging my leg because I couldn’t bend my knee without feeling like a knife was in there. It’s not the easiest thing, but it’s worth it for every dollar we raise.

“We see this walk as this eight-day journey and there’s quite a bit of struggle and pain, but at the same time, it’s temporary,” he said. “People with MS, their symptoms are not only every single day, but they get progressively worse. That motivates us to push aside life’s struggles and have a positive attitude.”

When trying to create a signature philanthropy event, the members of Alpha Tau Omega found that one of their brother’s mom had been recently diagnosed with MS.

“One of our brothers that graduated last year, his mom was recently diagnosed with MS,” said philanthropy chair Zack Amrein. “Through that, we learned that some other people in our chapter know people who are currently struggling with MS. It’s something we could all do together. We want to help bring something forward that people might not recognize every day.”

The vast majority of the food and supplies for the trip are bought using the fraternity chapter’s money, along with donations from sororities and the GVSU community.

“The support we’ve seen from the Grand Valley community is unparalleled,” Amrein said. “It’s something that shocked us, to be honest. We’ve been able to raise so much awareness about MS. I didn’t expect us to raise as much money as we have already.”