Dartmouth alumni have raised more than $250,000 since the event’s inception in 2020.
Courtesy of Emma Replogle
Courtesy of Emma Replogle
The fourth Omondi Obura Peak Bag, an annual fundraising event organized by the Class of 1988 Light Crew Team, will be held on October 1 to raise money for the Omondi Obura Fund for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Named in honor of Omondi Oburo ’88, a lightweight rower who died by suicide in 1989, the event encourages participants from all parts of the world to explore nature in solidarity with promoting mental health on campus.
In 2023, the Omondi Obura Fund became a permanent endowment at Dartmouth as part of the Dartmouth Cares Initiative, a campus mental health awareness program, according to Steve Cook ’88, Obura’s teammate and one of the Peak Bag organizers. Since its inception in 2020, the fund has raised more than $250,000 to support mental health and suicide prevention at Dartmouth and has grown from 55 participants in 2020 to more than 250 last year, Cook said. He added that academy president Sian Leah Beilock, with whom Cook has corresponded about the event, said she “plans to attend.”
This year’s event will also feature a donation matching system of up to $20 per attendee, Cook added. “Even if students don’t donate any money themselves, they can still contribute just by walking and registering,” he said.
According to past reports from Dartmouth, the term “Peak Bag” comes from a phrase in the climbing community to indicate when one has successfully reached the summit – a repetition of the phrase “get it in the bag”. To participate in the Peak Bag on campus, Cook said one can participate in any form of outdoor physical activity, from hiking Mount Cube to walking around Pine Park.
Cook added that last year’s Peak Bag was almost canceled due to sensitivity to the family of Sam Gawel ’23, who died by suicide less than three weeks before the event. After Gawel’s death, Cook said he reached out to Gawel’s family to ask if the event would be “too painful” to hold. However, the Gawel family, their neighbors and a number of friends attended last year’s Peak Bag in Sam’s honor, Sam’s mother Leah Gawel wrote in a Peak Bag testimonial.
“The Peak Bag event was a lovely way to come together and do something meaningful,” wrote Leah Gawel. “Sam was an avid outdoorsman and we knew we wanted to organize a trip in his memory, but [the Peak Bag] he was too early in his death to sort anything out logistically. It was a real gift to be able to join this hike in honor of another great young man who the world also lost too soon.”
Erica Finsness ’04, who had no previous connection to the fundraiser, said she started in 2021 with other Dartmouth alumni in the Seattle area before getting involved in 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 it didn’t seem like I was struggling,” Finsness said. who play really well.”
In addition to the academy’s alumni network, members of the campus community—including students—also participated in the summit 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 emailed statement that she “definitely” intends to attend again this year to boost funding for the academy’s mental health resources.
“No one should suffer in silence or alone, which is why I decided to go on the 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 the Peak Bag is taking a great step toward letting everyone know 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 could come together and at least be open to talking about [mental health],” he said. “I’m just encouraging the feeling that you’re not alone.” [and] can have a positive impact.”
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