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College students to embark on eight-day, 160-mile walk for MS

February 27, 2013

ROCHESTER — While many of their fellow college students are basking in the sun in the tropics during spring break, 15 Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brothers from Grand Valley State University will be battling the Michigan elements on an eight-day, 160-mile hike to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

An ATO chapter at Troy University, in Alabama, created the “Walk Hard” concept a while back — walking 120 miles for charity into Florida — and when word got back to the ATO chapter at Grand Valley, the fraternity decided to organize its own journey.

“We started by setting up meetings, and it grew into something larger than any of us ever anticipated and something way more successful than we could have imagined,” said Grand Valley junior James Zyrek, who is coordinating the event. “It’s been three and half months of our guys putting their hearts and souls into something to make it successful.”

Zyrek, 20, of Rochester Hills, and his best friend and fellow Grand Valley junior Tyler Dawson, 20, of Oakland Township, are two of the men embarking on the philanthropic “ATO Walk Hard” journey from Allendale to Traverse City. Both men graduated from Rochester Adams High School in 2010.

Dawson, who coordinated the sleeping arrangements and worked on promoting the walk, also planned the route.

The trek will begin with an opening ceremony in the Kirkhof Center at Grand Valley State University at 1 p.m. Feb. 28. From there, the team will walk approximately an average of 20-22 miles for eight consecutive days.

“I’m definitely a little worried about the cold, or even if it’s warm and raining out, that won’t be too fun,” Dawson said. “But I’m excited.”

A majority of the journey will take place on the White Pine Trail — Michigan’s longest Rail Trail State Park, stretching a distance of 92 miles from Comstock Park to Cadillac. The trail passes through 31 municipalities and townships, crosses 22 rivers and streams, and alternates between a terrain of farmlands and woods. 

“The mileage is over a marathon a day, and we’ll be walking anywhere from eight-10 hours a day in the Michigan elements, so hopefully they are kind to us,” Zyrek said.

The team, which has been using a 40-day workout and nutrition plan developed by a fellow fraternity brother to prepare for the hike, will carry supplies on their backs and stay in churches along the way to keep costs at a minimum.

A support team of five fraternity brothers will be following the team in two cars, in case of an emergency, and will also be responsible for providing breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as setting up the churches each night for those on the hike. The support team will also be in charge of documenting the event and will update the group’s Facebook page,, with pictures and videos for those who want to follow the team’s progress.

On March 7, local police will escort the team into downtown Traverse City to end their 160-mile, eight-day journey.

Zyrek said participants thought they would most likely collect between $3,000 and $4,000 in donations, but decided to set a fundraising goal of $10,000 — which they recently surpassed.

“We hit $1,000 in two days, hit $10,000 in a little over two weeks, and now we are currently at over $11,000, hoping now to raise $15,000,” he said.

“The most our fraternity had ever raised in a whole year for philanthropy was $2,000 before this, and we’ve already hit $11,000 for just this semester alone, so we’re pretty excited about this whole thing,” Dawson added.

To donate to the cause, visit, select the “search for an activity” button under the “join or donate to a fundraising activity,” and enter “ATO Walk Hard.”

For more local news coverage, see the following newspaper:


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