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Student's fundraiser to fight eating disorders grows to second biggest in country

Emily McMillen ’11 didn’t set out to make 16 grand for charity. She did her job and it just sort of happened.

This weekend, all of her hard work will pay off when hundreds of people take to the streets of Williamsburg for one of the country’s largest walks for eating disorder awareness.

logoMcMillen, a women’s studies and elementary education double major at William & Mary, is the president of CARES (Collegiate Awareness Regarding Eating Smart), which sponsors Love Your Body Week every spring at the College. In order to increase their activity in the fall, McMillen decided to organize what was originally going to just be a small, community walk, but, according to her, “It got a lot bigger than that.”

The walk is sponsored by NEDA (the National Eating Disorder Association) and will take place on and around the William & Mary campus on the morning of Oct. 30. An event of this kind typically raises about $1,000, but, as of last week, McMillen estimates that she has raised over $16,000, making her walk the second biggest in the country.

“We’re kickin’ butt right now.” she said with a big smile.

After getting approval from NEDA’s corporate headquarters in Seattle, McMillen began working on the logistics and looking for sponsors. However, no sooner did McMillen get past the initial planning phase than the event “took on a life of its own.” A few weeks after she started planning, McMillen found herself in contact with various groups on campus, in the Williamsburg community, and eventually from around the country, all wanting to help out in some way.

First came Chi Sigma, the graduate student counseling group who contacted McMillen and said that they wanted to get involved. Then came the women’s law association, which found out that McMillen’s walk coincided with the end of women’s law week. After that, McMillen got in touch with the FREED (For Recovery and Elimination of Eating Disorders) Foundation, and after finding out that the walk overlapped with their education tour, the group’s education chair Kathleen MacDonald asked to be the main speaker at the event.

The senior also succeeded in getting author Marya Hornbacher on board to read from her book, “Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia,” and even drew the attention of Remuda Ranch, an inpatient care facility based in Arizona which is flying a team in to Williamsburg for the day of the walk.

All of these groups and individuals will come together Saturday at 10 a.m., when McMillen’s “walk, run, stroll, crabwalk, or whatever you want” begins. The 5k will take participants on a loop around the College campus which McMillen, an avid runner, mapped out herself. The walk will end at the William & Mary Recreation Center where food and live music will be offered.

When asked what happens after the 30th, the senior first jokingly replied “I sleep.” Later, she went on to express her hope that someone will pick up where she left off.

“I want someone to pick up the torch next year and do this again. I don’t want this to be the first and only Williamsburg NEDA walk. I want this to be something that happens every fall,” she said.

NEDA is the largest non-profit organization dedicated to combating eating disorders in the world, and McMillen feels that its continued presence would be a boon for the college campus, considering that 4.5 percent of women in America have battled an eating disorder.

“Everyone on this campus has some sort of connection with this issue. It might be on varying levels of emotion, but I feel like there’s a connection with everyone,” McMillen remarked. “And people are getting behind this event because of that emotional connection. Everyone I have on board planning this right now, it pulls their heartstrings.”

Ultimately, McMillen hopes that the biggest contribution she makes with this event won’t be measured in terms of scale or dollars, but in the conversations and passion that it inspires.

“You know when your friends are struggling,” she said. “Hopefully, this will give you the strength and the words to help them.”

More information about the Williamsburg NEDA walk can be found here.