Hali McKinley Lester

Freshman, International Studies major

source: winningcause.org

Life changing. Inspiring. Humbling. Miraculous. These were some words Honors Dance Marathon team members used to describe their experience. On March 14-15, more than 800 UF students remained on their feet for 26.2 hours to support Dance Marathon. Sleep-deprived and without caffeine, the students celebrated the fact that they raised $2,015,307.17 for the Children’s Miracle Network. “I have never felt more like a Gator than I did that weekend and it’s because we all came together in unity to create miracles for the kids,”  freshman Exploratory Social and Behavioral Sciences major Ashley Parigian said. The Honors Dance Marathon team surpassed their goal of $7,000 raising a total of $10,165. “That number still blows my mind, because it’s only our third year as a team,” Honors Delegate junior Philosophy and Spanish double major Kate Rheaume said. The Honors team sent 12 students to dance for all 26.2 hours.

The Honors team was led by two delegates, Rheaume and Vanessa Honorvat. Rheaume first got involved with DM during her freshman year. “I was on SHO exec [the Student Honors Organization executive board] and the old delegate told us about it at a meeting. It sounded awesome, so I signed up. A couple months later, due to some unforeseen circumstances, I got asked to step in and fill the delegate position. It was our first year as a team, and we only had about a month until the event. Somehow, we managed to raise $1,400 and send three dancers,” Rheaume said.

Although DM faced the challenge of being earlier this year, the event raised about $500,000 more than last year. “We had to deal with a lot of extra work and stress. In the end, though, seeing that two come up was one of the best moments of my life. I figured we would get $1.3 million or somewhere around last year’s total, so I was completely shocked,” Rheaume said.

At the event, the dancers participate in numerous games to keep them awake and having fun before the final reveal. One of the most popular activities is the line dance, which is a unique dance that the participants perform each hour throughout the night. “The line dance definitely was one of the highlights of DM. Everyone starts out turning in the wrong direction or stepping on their partner’s feet. But by the last hour, all of the dancers and even some of the staff learned to do the dance like pros,” Parigian said.

Freshman Psychology major Valeria Hernandez became interested in DM when she saw older friends posting about it on social media. When she heard about the Honors team, she immediately signed up. Although she was incredibly nervous leading up to DM, she cherished the event. “My DM experience was intense. I cried, I laughed, I almost fell asleep standing up,” Hernandez said. “[It’s] nothing like I’ve ever experienced before, but it was phenomenal. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

UF started their Dance Marathon in 1995, when they raised $12,424.66. Since then, they have become one of the leading Dance Marathons in the country. UF’s Dance Marathon raises money for the Children’s Miracle Network at UF Health Shands Children’s hospital. “Knowing that you’ve changed a child’s chance at life, a family’s chance at happiness, it’s indescribable,” Rheaume said. “I don’t know, it’s a pretty cool feeling that a group of college kids can change the world.” Each registered team has at least one miracle child. Additionally, miracle families (the families of patients who receive help from the Children’s Miracle Network) come to DM to speak about their experiences and how the DM has helped them. “I really think to fully understand it one must be there during the times when the families share their stories or when you get introduced to your team’s miracle child,” Parigian said. “There are little moments that just stick with you and even though everyone gets tired and even a bit delirious, you see the smiles on those kids’ faces and it just keeps you going.”