On February 29th and March 1st, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the University of Kentucky's 15th annual 24-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon, DanceBlue. I participated in DanceBlue mini-marathons that was eight hours long when I was in high school, so I was familiar with the marathon, but nothing could have prepared me for the rollercoaster of emotions I would experience this past weekend.
In honor of Jarrett Mynear, a young boy who passed away from cancer almost eighteen years ago, DanceBlue was founded on the platform of supporting the pediatric hematology/oncology clinic at Kentucky Children's Hospital. Since its beginning in 2005, DanceBlue has raised over $17 million.
DanceBlue fundraises year-round, and each year it surpasses its previous fundraising record. I spent months asking for donations, going to restaurant nights, and attending dozens of philanthropy events in preparation for DanceBlue, hoping I could secure a dancer spot and knowing all the money was FTK (For The Kids). With the help of my friends and family, I was able to not only reach but surpass my goal.
Leading up to the marathon, the nerves began to set in. I wondered if I could stand for 24 hours and if I could even stay awake for that long. I stressed so much about my own well-being and almost forgot about the entire purpose of DanceBlue. The money raised goes straight to kids right here in Lexington, Kentucky. We dance for the kids that can't and we dance for a cure. All the nerves I had were nothing compared to the pain and suffering the kids in the DanceBlue clinic endure on a daily basis. When I thought about this, my worries disappeared.
The marathon began at 8:00 p.m. Saturday night and lasted until 8:00 p.m. Sunday night. I had seen so many Facebook posts and videos about DanceBlue and that's what prompted me to participate, but the pictures and videos don't even come close to describing the DanceBlue experience. DanceBlue is a family and I was lucky enough to feel that firsthand.
We spent the first two hours of the marathon learning the iconic 12-ish minute line dance that is performed every hour on the hour. It's one of the best parts of the marathon because over 900 college students come together for a quarter of every hour and act as silly as they want, not caring who's watching. We did the "Git Up," we "Dougie'd," and we rode the train all for the kids. Several DanceBlue clinic patients got to come to the marathon and seeing them dancing alongside us made every hour worth it.
Every hour had a theme with different games for our Morale Groups to play and win points for the coveted "Morale Cup." From winter and Disney villains to recess and Netflix, every hour brought new laughs and friendly competition. As the hours went on, the games became more competitive, but the swollen feet and ankles and lower back pain also began to set in more and more. There were complaints, but none lasted longer than a minute. I truly believe everyone in Memorial Coliseum for those 24 hours knew that their pain was incomparable to the pain of the kids we danced for. The high spirits and genuine love in DanceBlue is one of the many things that make the marathon so special.
The first twelve hours seemed to fly by but when we finally crossed over the halfway point, emotions were running high. The pain was becoming more prominent abut the grand total reveal was that much closer. To know that I had a small part in changing the lives of those kids made me keep going. The support we received every single hour of the marathon kept us going. There was never a time, even in the middle of the night, when there wasn't a sizeable crowd cheering us on. That's another thing that makes DanceBlue so special, you don't have to participate in the marathon to make a difference. The donations are one of the bigger parts of the marathon, but the support means so much more. Knowing there are thousands of people willing to offer their time to make sure the dancers are physically (and mentally) okay and willing to go out and get them whatever they needed to keep dancing means the world. The number of letters I received during Mail Call, some from close friends and family, some from people I haven't seen in years, and even an anonymous one from "a highschool peer" made me realize that there are so many people who wanted to see me make it through the marathon, they helped me push through.
In the final hours of the marathon, we were able to hear testimonies from cancer survivors and parents of DanceBlue clinic kids who passed away from cancer. The entire marathon was humbling, but this part put all our hard work into perspective. The heartfelt words of gratitude from tearful mothers are something I will never forget. Hearing them telling us that what we are doing is making a difference truly brought everything into perspective for me.
In the last hour, the grand total is finally revealed. 365 days of fundraising finally became a real, visible number. We were tired, beyond exhausted (some delirious at this point) but the end was in sight. Standing next to my line dance partner and seeing those numbers being raised high in the air triggered emotions in me I didn't even know I had. I let out a sob and hugged the people around me because we did it, we did it for the kids. Shattering the previous total by over $200,000 and reaching $2 million for the first time was unbelievable. Almost a week later I still can't put into words what that felt like. The sleep deprivation and the aches and pain suddenly meant nothing. At that moment, all that mattered were the kids. We danced For The Kids and we danced for a cure.