By Ryan Romano
For The Diamondback
Junior Tommy Brophy was only an infant when multiple doctors diagnosed him with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder resulting in mucus buildup in one's lungs and other organs.
As a freshman at the University of Maryland, Brophy, an economics major, organized the first Great Strides walk on this campus. Three years later, he planned the university's third consecutive walk on April 23, which raised almost $30,000 to be donated for research.
"I met a ton of people [with the disease] early on and thought, 'Maybe I could do something to raise awareness for [it],'" he said. "In general I'm a very social person, so having met so many people so quickly, I thought it was something I could start and hopefully grow."
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation runs Great Strides walks as fundraising events across the country. More than 125,000 people take part in the walks each year, according to the foundation's website. Participants form teams and solicit donations, which go toward the foundation's efforts to raise awareness and find a cure for the disease.
"Great Strides is critical to our lifesaving efforts, and every walker who joins in really makes a difference in the lives of these folks," said Denise Brownlee, the foundation's Metropolitan Washington, D.C., chapter executive director.
This year more than 400 people attended the event, which raised $28,334; Brophy raised $13,530 himself. In 2015, the event drew around 50 people, Brophy said, but attendance greatly increased this year because of involvement from the Greek life community.
Participants spread the word via social media, Brophy said, but most of the donations came from email. Brophy sent emails to his family and friends — "basically everyone I could think of," he said.
"I've been able to reach a lot of students that I haven't been able to reach in the past by talking to students through Greek life," he said.
The event's official sponsor was the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, which Brophy is a member of, said junior John Swanton, a public health major and a member of the fraternity. When Brophy joined the fraternity, raising money for the walk became a "big group effort," he said.
"It's such a prominent disease, and when people close to you … are affected by it, it becomes something that a lot of people want to contribute to," Swanton said.
Participants in this year's walk gathered at La Plata Beach on North Campus to eat and play games, and after Brophy addressed the crowd, they began their walk from La Plata around the campus, passing McKeldin Mall and Maryland Stadium
Many participants had stickers to signify their reasons for participating. Brophy's sticker read: "I am a fighter."
Freshman journalism major Bridget Divers, a member of the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority, which also co-sponsored the event, along with a number of other Greek Life organizations, attended the walk for the first time this year. Davis said she connected to the cause as one of her high school friends also has cystic fibrosis, which made this philanthropic effort different from others her sorority undertakes.
"It connects me more to the philanthropy, just because I know someone that has it," she said.
Brownlee, whose chapter worked with Brophy to help coordinate the walk, lauded his diligence.
"It's amazing what he is doing and how he's brought together all these different groups," she said. "It's really grown each year, and we're thrilled to see where it'll go."