Fried dough and philanthropy were on people’s minds this weekend in Schenley Plaza.
Crowds of people dressed in donut costumes and donut headbands — even a man wearing a sparkly silver dress adorned with donuts — packed into the plaza Sunday morning for the ninth annual Donut Dash. The event was hosted by Carnegie Mellon’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
More than 1,400 participants lined up under an arch to run a one-mile course along Schenley Drive and around Schenley Plaza, stopping to eat a half dozen donuts before running the course one more time. Registration began at 9 a.m. for the two divisions of the race — one for competitive runners that started at 11 a.m., and one for casual walkers and joggers that began a little after 11:30 a.m.
The morning began with a few words from Farnam Jahanian, the interim president of Carnegie Mellon, and Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. Jahanian thanked all those who made the event possible — including People’s Natural Gas, the event’s main sponsor — and praised CMU and Pitt’s ability to put the event together.
“We are delighted to be partnering with the University of Pittsburgh, for this is yet another example of how the universities work so well together,” Jahanian said.
The brothers of the SAE fraternity at Carnegie Mellon started using the Donut Dash to raise money for the Live Like Lou Center — a fund for ALS Research at Pitt’s Brain Institute — after their alumni advisor, Bob Dax, was diagnosed with the disease in 2014. Dax lost his battle with ALS — a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects brain and spinal cord nerve cells — and passed away in May 2017.
The fraternity pledged to raise $500,000 in five years, and they exceeded their mark this year — one year earlier than anticipated. They raised $200,000 this year alone, bringing their total donation of four years to $580,000.
Kevin Wainczak, a CMU senior studying cognitive science and software engineering and the co-chair of the Donut Dash for SAE, was very proud of the money raised. He said the previous co-chairs created a momentum that allowed the fraternity to reach their goal.
“Reaching $200,000 raised was a goal that felt unreachable for so long, and the moment we realized we got it I was completely in awe,” Wainczak said. “We’re still in disbelief, but so incredibly proud, of what we have been able to achieve.”
Neil and Suzanne Alexander created Live Like Lou — the foundation that will receive these earnings — in 2011 after Neil was diagnosed with ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. They started the center to raise awareness for the disease and support research targeted at finding a cure.
The Alexanders pledged to raise $2.5 million — of which SAE committed to raise $500,000 — over a five-year span to make the center a reality, and Pitt matched this pledge to create a total of $5 million for the initial funding commitment.
Erica Sorg, a speech pathologist who works with people who have ALS, participated in the competitive race.
“I saw the flyer at Dunkin’ Donuts, picking up donuts, so I figured why not try running,” Sorg said.
Following the completion of the competitive and casual races, the staff presented a giant check to Live Life Lou Center to show how much money they raised that year.
The event then moved on to a donut eating competition before wrapping up with a few short memorial remarks for the fraternity’s alumni advisor, Dax.
“[Dax] got us through a lot of low points and was just a great guy,” Fitzmorris said.
In the five years before the proceeds of the Donut Dash went to Live Like Lou, the funds were donated to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Now that Live Like Lou is dissolving, the fraternity needs to find another charity to donate to.
“We need to talk as an organization as to whether or not we want to continue to donate to ALS research or whether or not we want to start on a new charity, but this is the last year we are able to donate to Live Like Lou,” Fitzmorris said. “Otherwise we would love to donate to them.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article said the Live Like Lou foundation will be dissolved after this year. That information was incorrect and has been removed. The Pitt News regrets this error.