BY TIM WEBBER
How far would you walk to help someone in need?
Many Drake students are proficient at finding ways to pack their schedules. Still, most college students wouldn’t dream of waking up before 5 a.m. on a weekend.
But on Sunday, April 17, that’s exactly what happened when 34 Drake students showed up at Old Main to begin a long day on the road.
The group walked the 34 miles from Des Moines to Iowa State University in Ames to raise money for children in Ethiopian refugee camps. The event, “Walk for the Horn,” raised over $1,800 to provide school supplies for the refugees.
This year is the third Walk for the Horn and the second walk to be based out of Drake University. But Daniel Hammer, the event’s organizer who has walked all three years, said that walk doesn’t necessarily get easier over time. Over the 12 hours of the event, the participants faced physical and mental challenges that pushed them to the limit.
WATCH: Drake students walk 34 miles for charity.
Walkers began showing up to Old Main shortly after 4:30 a.m. The walk didn’t necessarily need to begin in the darkness of early morning, but the pre-dawn start allowed for much of the walk to be completed before the heat of the day. The temperature was forecasted to push 80 degrees, and clouds and wind wouldn’t provide too much relief.
Hammer, a junior, also admitted that he needed to be back on campus before the evening, and many students were in similar situations. The early start allowed the walkers to complete other obligations later in the day.
“I think it’s going to be a marvelous today with lots of walkers having a good time, and I don’t anticipate any problems,” Hammer said, before pointing out a walker arriving at the start point. “That is a massive backpack.”
Balancing the right amount of necessities with the amount of weight a walker can carry is important. Too much and the walk becomes difficult due to the amount of weight on your back. Not enough and you may run into other frustrating problems down the road. Sunscreen is encouraged. So are extra shoes, snacks and water.
A car shuttled water and bananas to the walkers, and picked up those who were too tired to continue. Over the course of the day, this car logged nearly 300 miles.
Another essential for the day: T-shirts. Participants donated at least $20 to walk, and part of that fee paid for a T-shirt, which were handed out at Old Main prior to the walk. Most of the walkers start off wearing the shirt, but by the end of the walk only a few will still be wearing it. The heat and sweat from walking will be effective encouragement to strip down to the lowest publicly-acceptable layer of clothes.
By mid-morning, some of the walkers were beginning to reach their first wall.
“First starting out, it was dark and kind of cold, so we were just trucking along at a kind-of-good pace,” said first-year Taylor Volesky. “By 9 (a.m., we were) kind of hitting the first wall. ‘Wow, we’ve only gone how many miles, and we still have to go how many more?’”
Volesky said a brief stop to regroup gave her and some of the other participants the energy and motivation to continue.
Mitch Schank, one of the event’s co-organizers, said that one way that he stayed motivated was by putting the walk into perspective.
“I got involved last year as a walker — and this year as an organizer — to help bring awareness to the Ethiopian refugees,” Schank said. “This small little walk is nothing compared to what they have to go through in those refugee camps.”
LISTEN: After the walk, Daniel Hammer speaks about the charity through which Walk for the Horn brings aid to Ethiopia.
Walk for the Horn is partnered with a Kansas City-area ministry called Blue River Kansas City Baptist Association, which works with refugee camps in Ethiopia. Walk for the Horn itself focuses on unaccompanied minors from the neighboring country of Eritrea.
“These are kids that come over from Eritrea, and they do not have parents, they have no family members,” Hammer said. “They’re living in tents with maybe one pair of shoes and one outfit. They don’t have access to a lot of resources. With the funds that we got this year, we’re trying to purchase some educational resources and children’s books that are in their native language—something that they currently have zero of.”
Last year’s Walk for the Horn raised money to help build a new library in one of the refugee camps. This year the group raised enough money to give each child multiple books.
Hammer said the ability to make a difference — while simultaneously pushing yourself to the limit — is what draws people to the walk.
“People aren’t going to that kind of walk without some kind of purpose,” Hammer said. “But because they saw that it was such a neat opportunity to challenge yourself for such a good cause, I think that attracted a lot of people to the event.”
The group received a good reminder of why they were walking about halfway through their journey.
A couple of bicyclists were on a 50-mile ride along the same route as the walkers, but the cyclists were plagued with several flat tires. While they changed the tires, Walk for the Horn participants caught up and the two groups crossed paths multiple times.
At one point, the cyclists asked why the students were walking, and upon hearing about the event, donated a small amount of money towards the cause.
“It was really neat,” Hammer said. “That was completely unexpected and a fun human touch to the walk.”
As the finish line neared, the group grew more determined to finish. Most walkers had no interest in stopping, preferring to instead push forward.
“You think that by stopping, your legs or feet will magically heal in a five-minute time period by sitting down, but it feels exactly the same when you get back up—possibly even worse, especially on your legs,” Hammer said. “The first five people that finished had decided that we were just going to go to the finish and not stop because it wasn’t worth it for the last twelve or so miles.”
Schank did stop to talk about his walk. He, like the other walkers, had been in physical pain for the past several miles.
“It’s getting pretty bad,” Schank said. “We’re on mile twenty-some-odd, and it’s pretty painful on the legs. I’m getting numb.”
But Ames, while not yet in sight, was getting closer, and Schank could already picture what he would do once he reached the finish line.
“I’m probably going to lay down on the ground at Iowa State and wait for a car,” Schank said, before jogging to catch up with one of the groups of walkers which were, at this point, spread out over about a mile.
Volesky, on the other hand, came to the understanding that she wouldn’t be able to complete the walk.
“We got to about eight miles left and I was in physical pain, so I called Evan (Guest, the shuttle driver), and here I am,” Volesky said.
Over the course of the day, Volesky had managed to walk the approximate distance of the marathon and was proud of the achievement.
“(I feel) pretty accomplished,” Volesky said. “I wish I could have finished, but that’s pretty good for not knowing how far I’d actually make it. “
Volesky wasn’t alone. Just 17 of the 34 walkers made it to the finish line in front of Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State.
But those 17 represented a huge improvement over the five that had finished last year. In addition, the majority of the finishers this year were female. No women finished the course last year.
The majority of the walkers finished the 34 miles in just under 11.5 hours, about half an hour shorter than the previous year. For Hammer, all these were signs that the Walk for the Horn was growing and improving, and he hopes to build off of this year’s success.
“I’m planning on organizing it again next year with the help of some of the Adams Academy students,” Hammer said. “I’m hoping to get that 50 mark for total walkers, and have it be a pretty balanced mix of men and women.”
The organizers aim to pick a better date next year to eliminate some of the scheduling issues that prevented some students from walking. Those that were able to attend, however, had a good time.
“It was very fun,” Hammer said. “I got to talk to a lot of people (and) hang out. Because it was such a larger group this year, it really made for a more fun, exciting time. We made it, and 17 of us finished, so (it’s a) huge success in our book. And now we’re trying to recuperate.”