After walking nearly 100 miles, Purdue junior Aaron Lai arrived at Assembly Hall on Tuesday night in time to watch the Hoosiers and the Boilermakers tip off.
Lai walked — and at times ran — from one campus to the other to raise money for the Tyler Trent’s Cancer Research Endowment. Trent, a Purdue student who captivated the nation during his fight against bone cancer, died in January.
Lai originally hoped to raise $10,000. But by his arrival, his GoFundMe page already hit nearly $18,000 in donations. The Walther Cancer Foundation also agreed to match however much money Lai raises.
He began walking at around 7 a.m. Sunday and didn’t stop until Tuesday evening, save for a few hours of sleep at a hotel overnight. Walking along the interstate felt more like walking on Legos by midday Monday, he said.
Even as his legs grew weak and temperatures sometimes dropped into the teens, Lai said he was inspired to honor Trent’s legacy.
Trent’s journey reminded Lai of his grandfather who died of lung cancer two years ago, he said. Both his grandfather and Trent lived on their own terms even during their battles with illness.
“Tyler never let cancer define who he was or what he wanted to do with his life,” Lai said.
Although he trained for the journey by walking for several hours a day for a month, Lai said the walk came with challenges. Two days before he set out, he pulled a hamstring after slipping on a patch of ice.
On top of his injury, there was not much room for him to walk on the interstate, which meant he had to walk on uneven grass some of the time.
The only time Lai really rested is when he went to sleep at nearby hotels for the night. But even then, he said he could only sleep for about five hours if he wanted to make it to Assembly Hall on time.
Lai walked alone, but his Delta Chi fraternity brothers drove out to him about every four hours to hand him supplies.
“He realized he can’t walk the whole way with everything in his backpack,” Purdue sophomore Ben Sammons, one of Lai’s fraternity brothers, said.
Along with protein bars, water and a change of shoes, Sammons said Lai also asked for a lot of ibuprofen and a lacrosse ball to roll out his leg muscles. Lai said his fraternity brothers have also gave him full meals, such as chicken, potatoes and vegetables.
Although Lai’s story has gained attention from several news organizations and had hundreds of donations from the GoFundMe page, he did not always have the same support.
“When he brought it up, a lot of us were thinking, ‘There’s no way,’” Sammons said. “I can’t even imagine walking 100 miles. Like, it’s snowing.”
But by the time Lai left the Delta Chi house in West Lafayette around dawn Sunday morning, Sammons said about 15 people from the house were awake to send him off.
A group of Purdue students met Lai at Assembly Hall to watch the game, where he planned to ice his feet and take some more ibuprofen.
Although his feet and legs ached, he said, he planned on enjoying the game with his friends anyway.
“How Tyler was always grateful for every day reminds me to never take time for granted,” he said.
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