A crowd gathered at the MU Student Recreation Complex to exercise in a more unconventional manner — dancing or standing for 13.1 hours while donning tutus, glittery leggings, neon shorts, colorful sweatbands and MIZ-FTK T-shirts.
FTK stands for “For the Kids,” because the 500 participants of Mizzou Dance Marathon are dancing to help children with life-threatening diseases.
On Saturday, Dance Marathon revealed a total of $176,290.55, which beat its previous record of $152,402.44 from 2013.
Now in its sixth year, the philanthropy event is one of the largest college dance marathon programs associated with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, according to a Mizzou Dance Marathon news release.
Victoria Mechler, director of public relations, said the $20,000 increase was in part due to the addition of a few new features, such as Dance Marathon’s steering committee requiring participants to raise a minimum amount of $100 prior to the event.
Fundraising can come from online donations, but participants each year can also fundraise by writing donation letters and even pledging to raise $1,000 to shave his or her head, Mechler said.
This year, Dance Marathon sponsored 21 children, some of whom were returners from previous years. Among second-time participants were Beau and Bryce Edwards, 8-year-old twins who were born premature with many complications, and Cassidy-Rae Luebbering, who has cerebral palsy quadriplegia and impaired hearing.
Between dances, the children’s families spoke of their experiences. Renee Luebbering, Cassidy-Rae’s mother, said she was touched by the Dance Marathon participants’ passion.
“We try and give back to Children’s Miracle Network by raising money as much as we can, and whenever I got an email almost two years ago, I decided to see what it was all about,” she said. “I had no idea how much our lives would change. We have become friends with these Dance Marathon kids, and they became a part of our family too. These (college) kids love our kids, and that means more than a mom could ever want.”
A new feature at the event was the sensory table, which explained the everyday struggles the sponsored children go through, which include effects of cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis, among others.
“It’s like a ‘live like a kid’ area,” Mechler said. “We also have child life specialists back there, and they can show you different things about what our different miracle kids go through on a daily basis with treatments.”
Music played nonstop throughout the event with the exception of an hourly announcement that signified it was time for the morale dance. The dance, set to a medley of popular pop songs, had “morale captains” dancing on stage in an effort to encourage participants to keep going.
Morale captain Allison Pudlik said the captains, who head 20 teams for the sponsored children, have been working since October to raise money.
“We go downtown to can … relentlessly through the rain and the cold, typically from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.,” Pudlik said, who is in her second year with Dance Marathon. “We also work concessions in the fall, so at the football games we’ll have a concession stand for Dance Marathon, and we have a deal with Faurot Field where the proceeds go toward us.”
Concessions brought it most of the money, Pudlik siad.
Freshman participant Mary Kate Kelly said standing from noon to 1 a.m. was tiring.
But Kelly’s older sister, Sarah, who is the 2014-2015 executive president of Auburn University’s Dance Marathon, made her aware of how fulfilling dancing FTK can be.
“I always heard my sister talk about it,” Kelly said. “I’ve been actually waiting to be able to go to my own Dance Marathon at my own university.”
Kelly, who was on Cassidy-Rae’s team, said she is also touched by the fact that children like Cassidy-Rae are Columbia residents like herself.
“I really like the fact that it’s really regional and specific,” she said. “Everything that we raised here benefits Columbia’s Children’s Hospital, and it’s awesome that the kids we’re seeing today live around here. You can meet them, and it’s very personal.”