Fraternity helps disabled brother climb mountain

The brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon at Quinnipiac University made sure Joey Mullaney would see the top of Sleeping Giant. Photo: Sigma Phi Epsilon

For students at Quinnipiac University in Central Connecticut, climbing the nearby Sleeping Giant mountain that sits next to campus is a favorite tradition.

Now, one of the school’s fraternities, Sigma Phi Epsilon, is gaining national attention for its commitment to making sure one of its brothers born with a rare neuro-muscular disorder was able to join in:

Joey Mullaney, a 20-year-old junior at Quinnipiac from Leominster, Massachussetts, would never have had the chance to see the view from the top of Sleeping Giant if it wasn’t for his frat brothers.

Born with Friedreich’s ataxia, a progressive disorder that attacks the nervous system and negatively affects mobility, Mullaney required a motorized scooter just to get around Quinnipiac’s campus. Attempting the rugged and rocky terrain at Sleeping Giant was far out of the question for him.

On the last day of the Spring semester in May, two of Mullaney’s fraternity brothers decided to surprise him.

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“We told Joey he had won a free breakfast buffet,” Matt Blumenthal, a junior in Quinnipiac’s Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter, told GrindTV. “We put him in a car and brought him to the base of the mountain to surprise him. Once he got there we had around 40 or 50 brothers waiting for him.”

Blumenthal had been best friends with Mullaney and another Sigma Phi Epsilon member Jon Nanna since they all met living on the same dorm floor freshman year. Unbeknownst to Mullaney, Nanna had organized a secret operation to make sure he got to the top of Sleeping Giant.

Fraternity helps disabled brother climb mountain

Brothers say Joey Mullaney has won over the campus with his happy demeanor. Photo: Joey Mullaney

“When you're a freshman the big thing to do is to hike the Giant,” Blumenthal said. “Jon noticed Joey never had the opportunity to do it because of the disease. So as sophomore year was winding down, he started a secret Facebook group. I think it was called ‘Operation: Get Joey Up The Giant.’ And the message was simple: It was time for Joey to see the top of the mountain.”

Once they had surprised Mullaney at the bottom of Sleeping Giant, the group of fraternity brothers took turns, one at a time, carrying him up the mountain on their shoulders.

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“His face was priceless, it was just pure joy,” Blumenthal said. “Joey got real quiet as we got closer to the top, and it turned into this incredible moment where you take a step back and realize the true brotherly love we all have for each other.”

The act of kindness remained under wraps until a video promoting the fraternity’s upcoming bike race to raise money for Friedreich’s ataxia was released and gained national attention.

“It’s good to see how much attention it’s getting,” said Blumenthal. “We were expecting it to be a quick video to be a teaser for our event, but this really blew up.”

The event called RideATAXIA+CT takes place Oct. 11 and features a 10-mile bike race around Quinnipiac’s campus. Last year’s event raised over $30,000 for the cause.

Fraternity carries disabled brother up mountain

Joey Mullaney says the support he has received from the school community means the world to him. Photo: Joey Mullaney

For Mullaney, the experience has been incredible.

“It was an unreal day.” He told GrindTV. “We started the hike around 8am and we thought it would take a lot longer than it did, but having everyone carry me got me up there quickly.”

For Mullaney, the opportunity is one he says he will never forget.

“Just seeing the campus for the first time up there was incredible,” Mullaney said. “Some people might think you might be thrilled or enthusiastic when you get there, I was just quiet. I didn’t have the words to thank them. I hope this is something we get to do annually, but if not I know 10 years from now we’ll talk about it at our weddings. It’ll be something I have forever.”

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