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The Dartmouth
June 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Fourth annual Omondi Obura Peak Bag to fundraise for campus mental health resources

Dartmouth alumni have raised more than $250,000 since the event’s founding in 2020.

9:21:23_Emmy_Replogle_PeakBag .jpg
Courtesy of Emmy Replogle

The fourth Omondi Obura Peak Bag, an annual fundraising event organized by the Class of 1988 lightweight crew team, will take place on Oct. 1 to raise money for the Omondi Obura Fund for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Named in honor of Omondi Obura ’88, a lightweight rower who died by suicide in 1989, the event encourages participants from all parts of the world to explore the outdoors in solidarity with promoting mental health on campus.

In 2023, the Omondi Obura Fund became a permanent endowment at Dartmouth under the Dartmouth Cares Initiative, a campus mental health awareness program, according to Steve Cook ’88, a teammate of Obura’s and one of the Peak Bag’s organizers. Since its founding in 2020, the fund has raised over $250,000 to support mental health and suicide prevention at Dartmouth and has grown from 55 participants in 2020 to over 250 last year, Cook said. He added that College President Sian Leah Beilock, who Cook corresponded with regarding the event, said “she plans to participate.” 

This year’s event will also feature a donation matching system of up to $20 per participant, Cook added. “Even if students don’t donate any money themselves, they can still contribute just by hiking and registering,” he said.

According to past reporting by The Dartmouth, the term “Peak Bag” comes from a phrase in the mountain climbing community to indicate when one has successfully reached a summit — an iteration of the phrase “getting it in the bag.” To participate in the Peak Bag on campus, Cook said one can engage in any form of outdoor physical activity, from hiking Mount Cube to strolling through Pine Park.

Cook added that last year’s Peak Bag was nearly canceled out of sensitivity to the family of Sam Gawel ’23, who died by suicide less than three weeks before the event. Following Gawel’s death, Cook said he reached out to the Gawel family to ask whether the event would be “too painful” to host. However, the Gawel family, their neighbors and a number of friends participated in last year’s Peak Bag in Sam’s honor, wrote Sam’s mother Leah Gawel in a Peak Bag testimonial.

“The Peak Bag event was a beautiful way to come together and do something meaningful,” Leah Gawel wrote. “Sam was an avid outdoor enthusiast, and we knew that we wanted to organize a hike in his memory, but [the Peak Bag] was too soon to his death to logistically work something out. It was a true gift to be able to join this hike, in honor of another fine young man whom the world also lost too soon.”

Erica Finsness ’04, who previously had no affiliation to the fundraiser, said she began peak-bagging in 2021 with other Dartmouth alumni in the Seattle area before getting involved with organizing the Peak Bag event. Finsness added how she has faced her own experiences with mental health.

“When I was at Dartmouth, I really struggled, and I didn’t appear to struggle,” Finsness said, “There was a large stigma around mental health, and I think that’s still true, especially for students or for the people at Dartmouth who perform really well.” 

Beyond the College’s alumni network, campus community members — including students — have also taken part in peak-bagging. Sofia Yawand-Wossen ’25 participated in last year’s Peak Bag by hiking Gile mountain with a group of friends. Yawand-Wossen wrote in an email statement that she “definitely” intends to participate again this year to bolster funding for the College’s mental health resources. 

“No one should have to suffer in silence or alone, and that is why I decided to hike for Peak Bag,” Yawand-Wossen wrote. “I want everyone in the Dartmouth community and around the world to know that they are not alone, and I think Peak Bag is taking a great step to ensure that everyone knows that.”

By setting this year’s Peak Bag date for Oct. 1, near the start of the school year, Cook said he hopes the event will be able to “connect as many people on campus as possible.”

“So, we thought early October would be a good time to have an event where people can get together and, at least, be open to talk about [mental health],” he said. “Just encouraging the feeling that you’re not alone [and] can have a positive impact.”