ATO continues to ‘walk hard’ for MS research

By Riley Collins | 1/18/17 10:31pm

GVL / Courtesy - ATO Fraternity

The term “university fundraiser” often brings up images of social gatherings or crowded rallies. For Grand Valley State University’s Alpha Tau Omega fraternity however, fundraising is no clean-cut effort.

The group is gearing up for their annual “ATO Walks Hard” event, which donates proceeds to the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

The walk involves a seven day, 160-mile trek starting from Traverse City, Michigan, all the way back to the Allendale Campus. Along the way, ATO will stay overnight in seven different churches on their route, and attend to the side effects that come with walking continuously for seven days.

These stressors can take the form of anything from painful shin splints, to bruised feet and toenail injuries.

“It’s kind of like the most fun we’ve ever had, but at the same time it’s almost like the worst thing we’ve ever experienced," said Connor McDonald, ATO historian. "One of the things we say is ‘it’s more mental than physical.’"

For the past four years, ATO has braved brutal northern Michigan winters in order to raise funds for multiple sclerosis (MS) research. It is a battle that is slowly being won, but not without difficulty.

MS is a disease of the central nervous system that unpredictably disrupts the progression of information within the brain. While many of those suffering with MS can be educated on its symptoms, the unfortunate truth is that the cause of MS is still unknown.

As its frequently diagnosed within people usually 20 to 50-years-old, MS can easily effect family members of college-aged students.

For this reason, Tammy Willis, vice president of special events at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) Michigan chapter, has been working with ATO since their first annual walk to stress the importance of funding research fast.

“Research is incredibly important. We need to find the cure," she said. "But there’s work to be done in the meantime to help people live life as full as possible."

Not only is research important to conduct so that a cure is found quicker, it also provides knowledge for those going through different stages of their life with MS.

Willis stressed the importance of continually recognizing people’s everyday struggles rather than their overall battle with the disease. The real things, such as experiencing weddings and marriages, can sometimes be lost for those who focus on identifying causes and solutions and not much in between.

In an effort to raise awareness about this disease and research funding, ATO has donated over $100,000 to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the last four years. Along with the exponential growth they have experienced since starting the event, ATO’s goals have also grown.

“This year we want to make our biggest year yet with a goal of $45,000 to be raised by the end of the walk,” said Ben Eastburg, ATO philanthropy chairman.

These funds come through local businesses, family, friends and even other students. They are contributed to the NMSS to aid in an overall goal of $50,000,000 in research donations alone this year.

In return, the NMSS provides scholarships to students with MS or who have parents with the disorder. Though students who want to contribute to a cause might not have much to donate, Willis explains that every dollar counts in such a large fight.

In addition, she said what students can not contribute in cash, they can over social media by spreading information about events such as ATO’s.

The “ATO Walks Hard” will be preceded by a kickoff event Thursday, March 2 during MS awareness week. The rally is free to students and will introduce walkers and speakers from the NMSS.

During awareness week, ATO and other campus groups will participate in different competitions to encourage donations and spread awareness. Students can donate to the “ATO Walks Hard” event through ATO's Facebook page.

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