The brisk air filled Colin McLean’s lungs, burning his windpipe as he ran from Washington-Grizzly Stadium to I-90. From there, he got in a van and tag-teamed with another member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, who would take over the running from there. After a while, it would be someone else’s turn. And so the entire fraternity would run straight through the day and through the night, and through the day and through the night again, until, 201 miles later, they reach Bozeman in time for the Brawl of the Wild.
“I’m not much of a runner,” said McLean, president of the University of Montana chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, “but I’m doing what I can.”
The fraternity is continuing a decades-old tradition of running to Bozeman in time for the game between the Griz and the Cats. Every other year, when the game is hosted by Montana State, Sigma Phi raises money for charity through flat-rate donations and pledges of a certain amount per mile before the big run. The fraternity has a long-standing relationship with Watson Children’s Shelter in Missoula and plans to donate the money raised from the run to the nonprofit’s efforts to build another shelter, which is set to open next May. On Thursday, the fraternity raised about $1,500, McLean said.
All 16 fraternity members will be participating, and they’ll get some help from fraternity alumni, community members and a few members of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. The run takes place in shifts that last two hours. A group of four to six people piles into a van donated by UM and follows a runner along the interstate who runs for about as long as he or she can stand.
The run began Thursday afternoon at Washington-Grizzly Stadium and will continue through Saturday morning, ending in time for the game. Through the night — up Homestake Pass and down again, through projected snow showers in Bozeman on the morning of the game — it’s Bozeman or bust the entire way.
“It’s pretty insane,” McLean said. “It’s just kind of life on the road at this point.”
One Sigma Phi alumnus helping out this year is Brint Wahlberg, who originally participated in the run in 1999 when he was a UM student. He remembered how hard it was.
“We came through Butte and we had to go up Homestake Pass and I’m just dying,” he said. “It’s cold, I’m exhausted and it’s six in the morning.”
Ten years later, Wahlberg doesn’t think it’ll be much easier, but he’s willing to help out his fraternity, whose numbers are lower than usual this year. Wahlberg’s goal is to run four miles, which he admits is a pretty big goal for him.
“I’m not the most physically fit person,” he said. “I might have to mix it with some jogging and some walking.”
Randy Khon, a freshman who has been part of the fraternity for about two months, will be taking two shifts, one this morning from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., and another later tonight from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next morning.
Khon said he had no idea he’d be doing anything like this when he joined Sigma Phi.
“I wish they would have told me it’s part of the job description,” he said.
But Khon has taken the run seriously. He quit smoking so his lungs would be able to handle it and he’s been running about two miles almost every day since he joined.
“I felt like I was going to die,” he said about the first couple days of training, “but knowing it’s for a better cause, it’s initiative.”
Fran Albrecht, the executive director of Watson Children’s Shelter, said Sigma Phi has been doing the run every time Bozeman has hosted the Griz for at least 20 years.
“It’s become a really special tradition for them,” she said.
The amount Sigma Phi has been able to raise over the years has varied from a few hundred dollars to close to three thousand. Albrecht said she was impressed that they were able to collect at least $1,500 this year and hoped their hard work will be able to pay off more in the future.
“It’s not like this is the track team,” she said. “These are a bunch of normal guys that were brought together to do something great.”