Donut Dash raises money for Live Like Lou

Donut Dash began with enthusiasm on Sunday morning as contestants ran a mile, ate some donuts, and ran another mile.  (credit: Kevin Zheng/) Donut Dash began with enthusiasm on Sunday morning as contestants ran a mile, ate some donuts, and ran another mile. (credit: Kevin Zheng/) Junior mechanical engineering major Dennys Morales eats a donut to gear up for Donut Dash, which raised over a hundred thousand dollars for Live Like Lou.  (credit: Kevin Zheng/) Junior mechanical engineering major Dennys Morales eats a donut to gear up for Donut Dash, which raised over a hundred thousand dollars for Live Like Lou. (credit: Kevin Zheng/)

Over 500 students, faculty, and community members participated in the sixth annual Donut Dash on Sunday, a yearly event held by the brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE).

Junior cognitive science major June Hammer Walitzer took first place in the women’s singles division, and undeclared Mellon College of Science first-year Joey Pickens took first in the men’s singles division and overall with a time of 12:36.

For the past five years, the Donut Dash looked much like those held by other organizations around the country: run, eat some donuts, run more, and try not to puke. But this year’s Dash was transformed, thanks to a makeover from senior cognitive science and human-computer interaction double major Jeff Mich.

“Whenever anyone asks me what the difference is between this year’s Dash and last year’s, I cut them off,” Mich said. “We’re doing everything differently. We’ve rebuilt the event from the foundation.”

To make that dream a reality, Mich worked with coordinator of Greek leadership and SAE chapter adviser Emily Cunningham.

“Last year, I was really taken aback by the quirkiness of the chapter and the event,” Cunningham said. “It’s weird, it’s so weird, but it’s so them. I love seeing their passion and how they can make this goofy thing so great, so I wanted to help make it a reality.”

Though in the past the event raised money for the Children’s Hospital, a charity with which Mich said the fraternity had a great relationship, this year, the money raised at the event is going to Live Like Lou, a Pittsburgh-based organization that is focused not only on funding research to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, but on helping patients and their families by providing support and care to create a community for those affected by the disease.

Neil Alexander, the founder of Live Like Lou, spoke at the end of the event, saying he was impressed with this year’s Donut Dash.

“Six months ago, we received a phone call from SAE asking if they could work with us for Donut Dash ... which we thought was just about the best idea we’ve ever heard in our entire lives. This is an impressive group of young men,” Alexander said.

According to Mich, the change was spurred on when the house’s alumni adviser, Bob Dax, was diagnosed with ALS last year. Knowing that the disease is fast-paced, the brothers decided to honor Dax by dedicating their annual fall charity to Live Like Lou.

“I’ve seen firsthand how invaluable Dax is to the house. He is the reason that we are still on campus, the reason that our house is filled with as many great guys and strong leaders as we are. Somebody needed to step up to show him how much he means to us,” Mich said.

“[Dax] is truly the example of the SAE True Gentleman,” Alexander said at the event.

In 2013, roughly 64 people were responsible for the majority of the fraternity’s $22,000 funding.

“We could do better; we could do so much better. That’s not a sustainable effort, and it’s not fair to our donors. They were investing in us, and it was our responsibility to show them what that money could do — not only on a college campus, but in a community,” Mich said.

Cunningham was impressed with the fraternity’s efforts and organization, saying, “Their passion, drive, and emotion that has gone into making this happen says a lot about these men and how deeply they understand brotherhood and what that means. They are truly incredible men who have truly pushed the boundaries and made things happen, and I don’t know how they’ve made as many things happen as they have.”

The fraternity raised $100,510.68, the largest sum raised by any organization on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, including collective events such as Greek Sing.

“[We] wanted to show this campus what it really means to fundraise. We care about this cause, and even though we don’t participate in a ton of stuff around campus, this is something that we’ve built a strong, growing foundation for. We don’t do things that don’t have a lasting impact. We’re setting the expectations for next year’s leaders,” Mich said.

According to Cunningham, the event has become so large that it caught the attention of Nigel Travis, the chief executive officer of Dunkin’ Donuts, who called the fraternity last week to thank them for placing the largest order ever — 9,000 donuts. Dax, who attended the event, said that he was blown away by the fraternity’s efforts.

“I’m overwhelmed. I can’t say enough. I never expected anything like this, especially compared to last year. This is mind-bogglingly amazing,” Dax said.

Though Mich does not hold an official leadership role in the fraternity, he said he was determined to make Donut Dash a major event on campus by “putting the amount of work that was required and having a desire to do things for the event.”

As project manager for the event, Mich was responsible for the growth of the event: the food trucks (Mac & Gold and Franktuary), the live music from WISH 99.7, the donut decorating station, the community connections, and the corporate sponsorships, ranging from People’s Natural Gas to The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company.

Cunningham said that she did not do much at all, but rather served as an adviser to help the men.

“It’s so rewarding to see that so many men are working together to make things happen,” Cunningham said. “You don’t see that delegation very often, but that is truly what fraternity is and should be: to give others leadership opportunities and to work together and to be wholly invested in this as a chapter event.”

“I believe that any work that I do, personal or academic, I try to get the most out of it,” Mich said. “That sort of started with [David] Kosbie’s class, when the final project was about doing something real and influential instead of just making a great game. Whenever I’m faced with a problem, I want the solution to be the most beneficial to me and the community. Donut Dash was the perfect fit.”