At 3 a.m. on March 20, the Steven C. O’Connell Center was more awake than ever. In one corner, college guys were shooting hoops wearing brightly colored tanks. In another, students were gathered around practicing the moves to a “Linedance” they learned the day before. In the center of the basketball arena, Dance Marathon captains, dressed in their 80’s prom attire, led dancers in a conga line. Some students were standing around a table, coloring pictures or studying for their next exam. Others stood in vats of dry, white rice.
It was hour 15 of standing.
Eight hundred UF students worked year-round to raise funds for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. Each dollar brought them closer to securing a spot as a “dancer.” They would stand for 26.2 hours, with no sleep or caffeine, to raise money and awareness for the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.
“All of the funds raised through DM at UF go directly to purchase state-of-the-art medical equipment, fund research grants and educational programs, and purchase toys and other items to help make the children’s stay at the hospital more enjoyable,” according to the Dance Marathon at UF website.
But if you asked any one of the 800 dancers on hour 15 of standing, they would tell you the reason they won’t sit down in three words: “For the kids.”
Throughout the day of standing, participants heard from children and their families who have been directly affected by childhood illness. They heard the stories of test results, diagnoses, treatments, fears and hopes found at UF Health Shands.
Many parents held back tears as they told the dancers that their child would not be here if it weren’t for the efforts of those involved in Dance Marathon.
After 26.2 hours of standing, playing with miracle children, raising money and, of course, dancing, it was time to see the final outcome of their efforts.
The overall directors of the event lined up on the main stage of the O’Connell Center holding posters that each displayed a number. One by one, they raised their number in front of the crowd until they could finally see the total funds raised during Dance Marathon 2016.
The crowd went wild. And then they sat down. Finally.
After waking up from a post-Dance Marathon, 14-hour nap, 18-year-old freshman Kelly O’Neil said that dancing in her first DM was the most rewarding experience of her life.
“I don’t really think I knew what I was getting myself into when I accepted the offer to be a dancer,” she said. “I could’ve never prepared myself for what those 26.2 hours were going to bring.”
She said she plans to be involved with Dance Marathon for the rest of her college experience and beyond.
“Interacting with the miracle families and seeing how we were able to change their lives really changed my life for good,” O’Neil said.