Phi Delt helps organize 5K run to fight ALS

Ben Sales

Phi Delta Theta has partnered with Extra Hands for ALS to sponsor “Run For Your Life,” a 5 kilometer race to benefit the fight against ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The race is an annual event started in 2003 and organized yearly by Jack Orchard, who also founded Extra Hands for ALS, a St. Louis-based organization that sends high-school and college students to volunteer at the homes of those with ALS. Orchard also suffers from the disease, which paralyzed most of his body.

This is the second year in which Phi Delt will run the event. Ian English, one of the coordinators of the race for the fraternity, said that Phi Delt hopes to attract more students by creating a fun and lively atmosphere around the running.

“We wanted to market to more students and get the campus involved,” English, a senior, said. “It’s going to be more like a party, with music and food.”

In addition to the student population, English hopes to attract local residents to the race in order to raise more money for the cause and forge a greater connection between students and St. Louis.

“With the event closer to school we’ve seen a lot bigger turnout so far,” he said. “Sponsors were a lot more excited about cont to an event where the whole city will be involved. It’s a great opportunity for students to learn about the city.”

The event provides another way to stand out beyond the physical competition, as participants are encouraged to run in costume. The inspiration for this, according to Orchard, comes from the annual Bay to Breakers run in San Francisco, where many runner dress up before setting out.

“I was looking for a way to produce a unique event that would appeal to our base of student volunteers,” Orchard wrote in an email. “After all, who gets excited by yet another walk/run? Without a twist it’s just not compelling.”

While his race may be based off of others, the goal of Orchard’s organization differs from that of most other foundations that raise money to fight the disease. Instead of funding research, the goal of Extra Hands is to provide everyday help to those paralyzed by ALS.

“Through my own experience becoming paralyzed by the disease I understood how ALS could place enormous pressure on family caregivers,” Orchard wrote. “Although I was committed to funding research, as I still am, I realized that my contributions to the fight against the disease could be much broader and more tangible if I could improve the daily lives of people living with ALS today.”

Orchard added that the volunteer experience is as much of an assistance to volunteers as it is to those being helped.

“We have realized that Extra Hands can fulfill its mission more effectively by engaging ALS families as teachers rather than as victims,” he wrote. “One of the many terrible things about ALS is that it strips away a person’s sense of independence, self-worth, dignity, and ego strength. By approaching patients as teachers of the students who visit them each week, we can restore some measure of their mental well-being.”

In that vein, several Phi Delt brothers have volunteered at Orchard’s home, and plan to visit others in the future. English says that working with Orchard has been an eye-opening experience.

“It’s been really cool working for him,” English said. “He still has a sense of humor, his mind’s still the same, he’s a funny guy. It’s been great spending time with him.”

Phi Delt chapters across the country help fight ALS in different ways. Orchard said that the Washington University chapter’s organizing the race speaks to several goals of Extra Hands.

“It’s an important collaboration on several levels,” he wrote. “First, given my commitment to youth leadership I thought it was important to have students run the whole event. Second, given Wash. U.’s stature in the neurosciences in particular, and in medicine in general, I felt that it was critical to establish as deep a collaboration as possible.”

But though the race is expected to raise approximately $25,000 this year, Orchard-who has written a book about his personal experience entitled “Extra Hands, Grasping for a Meaningful Life”-believes that he has much more work to do.

“Most people over the age of 30 know someone who has or had the disease and yet they usually can’t tell you what ALS stands for,” he wrote. “I’d love to see Phi Delt chapters in each city competing with each other to stage the best and most profitable Run For Your Life.”

The race will take place on Saturday, May 3, at 10 a.m. in Tower Grove Park and is sponsored by the University’s School of Medicine, Anheuser-Busch and several other local businesses and organizations. More information can be found at

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