The opening ceremonies are always very emotional. The families get to go on stage and watch as all the dancers come running in through a giant human tunnel. This year was especially exciting for us as we were the first family to speak. The dancers were so pumped up with emotion and excitement that they started chanting Riley’s name as soon as she cartwheeled onto the stage.
We have been doing dance marathons for seven years now but it’s only been the past year or so that Riley has been stepping up and telling her own story. It’s a bit different for her because her time in the NICU occurred as an infant and she has no real memories of the time spent there. Instead, she likes to tell her favorite stories that she’s heard from us, our friends and people she meets at the hospital. It never ceases to amaze me that even after nine years, one of her medical team members will stop us and tell Riley a story about her stay there.
Even though the theme of this year’s dance marathon was “tradition” there were several changes. For the first time ever, dancers were split into two 17-hour shifts. There was also a large group of invited dancers, the top fundraisers, who were invited to dance for the full 36 hours. They got to have some special treats because they were the only dancers there for a two hour period between shifts. This shift change led to a lot of excitement. We got to do the opening ceremonies twice, and it was nice to see so much energy in the waning hours.
There was a special area set up just for the kids with games and face painting. The highlight of the weekend for many of us is the Riley Kid Talent Show. The kids really pull out all the stops and many of them start planning for next year as soon as the show is over. I love the interaction the kids have with the dancers and committee members. Everyone works hard to make the kids feel special from the minute they get there.
All of the excitement builds for Sunday morning when closing ceremonies begin. There are hugs and tears as everyone prepares for the big reveal. At 8am, the accounting committee takes the stage and as the “So Excited” music starts, they flip the numbers to reveal a record-breaking $1,801,207.
We feel so thankful to be a part of the dance marathon family and IUDM. This was our 85th dance marathon for Riley Hospital and every single one touches my heart. I feel so blessed that our community is filled with so many people who are willing to make a difference in the life of a child.