MizzouThon continues record-breaking streak

Breaking yet another record, MizzouThon dances to a grand total of $201,322.68 raised donations.

A student buys merchandise at the MizzouThon fundraiser Saturday, March 14, 2015, at the MizzouRec in Columbia, Mo.

As the 13.1 hour mark drew closer, the MU Student Recreation Center basketball courts-turned-dance floor was crowded with dancers, decked out in black and gold, powering through the last hour, or the "Power Hour," of MizzouThon.

MizzouThon hosts events throughout the year for the dancers and the Miracle Kids and Miracle Families, but the annual dance marathon, which was March 14, is the biggest event.

For its main event, MizzouThon saw more than 900 dancers registered, 14 Miracle Families and their 20 Miracle Kids together raise a grand total of $201,322.68 for the MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital to renovate their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

This was a consecutive record-breaking amount for MizzouThon. The funds went to the $1,000,000 pledged goal they set earlier this year to be met within the next five years.

Most of the 20 Miracle Kid teams had a change of clothes for Power Hour — faces and bodies covered in glitter, dressed in customized team shirts, tutus, colored leggings, festive headbands and fanny packs.

“We rebranded from a random blue to a black and gold, so that helps tie in university spirit,” said Erin Ehlers, MizzouThon’s vice president of logistics. “(The name) ‘Dance Marathon’ was kind of tied to a one-day event, but in reality we have events all year long, we hang out with the families all year long. We really wanted to have a name that represented what we actually do year-round.”

An event ‘for the kids’

This year’s event included a hydration station for dancers, a silent auction with items up for bid created by several of the Miracle Kids, banner painting, a moon bounce, a tie-dye shirt station, hair donations, a photo booth, hula hoop dancers, several dance-off and sing-off competitions, special musical performances, board games and video game stations, basketball, a ‘Be The Match’ station accepting blood marrow donor volunteers and speeches where the Miracle Families shared their stories throughout the night.

The first hour ended with the Sims Family, Team Christian, sharing a poem titled “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley.

“I’m really excited to hear more of the families’ stories,” Morgan Fryman, a freshman dancer for Team Wyatt, said during the first hour of the event. “When we’re here, we take for granted so easily the fact that we’re here, it’s very humbling.”

Ehlers, who has now racked up almost 40 hours of dance marathons, said their reasoning to donate to the NICU stemmed from when the hospital began renovating the NICU and reached out for monetary donations last summer. MizzouThon was more than willing to help.

“One of the biggest things we wanna do, there are some money aspects — pay off the $1,000,000 pledge as soon as possible, less than five years would be awesome. But even bigger than that – spreading (MizzouThon) across campus,” Ehlers said. “We want everybody to kind of understand what we do, even if they don’t wanna get involved as much.”

However, MizzouThon is about more than the funds for a lot of its participants. The event annually brings together dancers with their Miracle Families and Miracle Kids, and a unique bond is formed.

Jill Halliburton is the mother of Wyatt, a Miracle Kid.

“It’s addicting,” she said. “You get here and it’s like ‘oh my word, this is amazing,’ so yeah, I appreciate that.”

Halliburton shared that attending last year’s dance marathon was a special moment for her whole family.

“(It was) the pivotal turning point for us,” she said. “We weren’t really big into coming to a lot of the events, but when we got here and the drumline was here and all these kids (were) cheering, I started bawling. It was very overwhelming to me. We thought we’d only come for a few hours and ended up staying much longer. Then we realized we need to start coming to these events throughout the year, because this is how these kids get to know (the Miracle Kids). It was life changing.”

Halliburton is a nurse within the university system and originally became involved with MizzouThon through the Miracle for Kids RadioThon, where Children’s Miracle Network encouraged her to have her son, Wyatt, become one of the Mizzou Miracle Kids. They’ve been involved for the past two years.

“He’s so sweet and so precious, I’m so glad we get to do this for him,” said Neeti Butala, a Team Wyatt dancer and Maneater staff writer. “I know it probably means a lot to the families.”

Ehlers said MizzouThon urges its dancers to get to know their team’s Miracle Kid and spend time with the families throughout the year.

“That’s something that’s gone a lot better this year, really getting the dancers more involved," she said. "So I think we’re on a good trajectory there.”

MizzouThon also partnered with morale leaders and captains, the choreographers, to keep spirits high throughout the 13.1 hour stretch. Dancers and morale leaders fawned over the Miracle Kids and the heartfelt stories of their parents.

“I think for me my favorite part is all the stories that everyone’s been telling,” freshman Anthony Holtschlag said.

Eleven and a half hours in, the Schurz representatives on Team Wyatt, which included Holtschlag, Fryman and Butala, started to feel the physical aches and pains.

“I’ve seen it evolve over the years, and it’s just crazy,” said Gretchen Roberts, mother of Miracle Kid Blake Roberts. “Every year they’ve grown, ...but I would never compare this year to year because ...the students in the organization change and they have a different vision every year. And every year I think it just builds upon itself, to have good things and bad things. And I think it’s just an amazing event, as long as it keeps being an amazing event, which it has been, I think it’s just hard to compare from year to year. Other than it just keeps growing and growing in dancers and money, and it’s just crazy.”

Roberts is a five-time MizzouThon veteran, and said the dance marathons are very addictive.

“It’s been interesting, the components that they’ve done — like one year they didn’t have a photo booth and the next year they did,” Roberts said. “Last year, we didn’t paint the banners. They were already painted, and hanging at the main event. And this year, they actually got to be painted by the dancers... It’s crazy to think these college students, as busy as they are with their studies and all the things they’re doing, that they’re taking out time to do this for our kids. It’s heartwarming, and just makes me feel so proud.”

Roberts shared that as each year brings in new families and returning families, the bond among the Miracles Families grows and deepens.

“Our families meld together,” she said. “No matter what the disability or the sickness, or the issues that our kids are going through. We’ve just become one unit, and it’s awesome the network that we have created with each other. It’s like we’ve got each other’s backs. It’s crazy cause even after MizzouThon is over, I know that (several of) these parents I can text or call them, we can set up play dates or we can just set up a time to have coffee. It’s phenomenal to have that kind of support. We are creating our own little community!”

Close to home

“Blake is ten years old,” Roberts said. “He was born with hydrocephalus, which is fluid in the brain. He is in a wheelchair, he’s non-verbal, has cerebral palsy, cortical vision impairment, which means he’s technically blind. He’s got developmental delay due to his brain damage, so he’s kind of not at the same level as a 10-year-old. He’s got a long list; he has no one word that defines his diagnosis.”

A lot of the Miracle Kids have spent some time in MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s NICU, so the new MizzouThon pledge has a very strong impact on all the Miracle Families — an intentional choice by the organizers of MizzouThon.

“I had a normal pregnancy; this was my second child. I didn’t think much of it,” Halliburton said. “And I went in because I didn’t think he was moving enough and they basically rushed him in, did an emergency C-section and found out he’d had a stroke, intrauterine stroke. And so things kind of snowballed from there — more diagnoses, more problems, 40 days in the NICU. It’s been an uphill climb, but we deal with it much better than we used to.”

Halliburton shared that the adjustment to caring for a baby with disabilities took some time, realignment of priorities and a reassessment of the blessings within their situation.

“In the beginning, it’s kind of weird; it’s so fresh and it’s so new,” she said. “I can remember the only thing that bothered me is that I’m gonna have a kid in a wheelchair. What am I gonna do? It didn’t dawn on me anything else. The only thing I fixated on was: I’m gonna have a kid in a wheelchair. And that was overwhelming to me at the time. Now I could care less; he’s here. So what (if) he’s in a wheelchair? He’s with us.”

Both Halliburton and Roberts agreed that one thing all parents of Miracle Kids possess in spades is patience coupled with a belief that it’s all worth it.

“It’s meeting all these amazing young people,” Halliburton said. “You just don’t assume they care.”

Halliburton also shared how everyone in her family has been affected, but not necessarily negatively.

“Macy is our daughter,” Halliburton said. “She’s seven. There is a very supernatural relationship between (Wyatt and Macy); she knows him and he knows her. He will light up when she talks to him — that is a joy to my heart to see the two of them. She’s starting to get to the school age where kids start to say kind of hateful things, and she had an experience with that this year in first grade. The way she dealt with it (was amazing), because that’s all she’s ever known. And we had another girl that’s in our church in that class, and she’s like, ‘You don’t know Wyatt, he’s awesome,’ so that’s been good for us too.”

Halliburton said that being the mom of a child with disabilities, which often leads to splits in families and relationships, has not only strengthened her, but her faith and her relationships, too. Her future hopes for her son include him learning to communicate and improve his vision.

“He does a lot through his eyes, and I know what he wants,” she said. “But to hear (his voice), you know, it would be awesome. I would love for his vision to be better, he knows who I am because he hears my voice, but he can’t see me well enough to know it’s me.”

Freshman Autumn McLain said MizzouThon is a reminder for students to think beyond the MU bubble.

“(The Miracle Kids) show that there’s a bigger world out there than just what classes you’re taking this semester,” McLain said.

A legacy forever

The night wrapped up with a candle-lighting ceremony and the cutting of bracelets that represented the Miracle Babies getting out of the hospital. The bracelet-cutting was done by the Miracle Families.

Roberts said it’s her favorite part of the whole night.

“My biggest hope for MizzouThon is that they just keep the awareness up on what these kids (do) and how much these kids help,” Roberts said.

Last year, the philanthropy was able to provide funding for a traveling substitute teacher to go to the hospital so that when kids are sick, they can keep up with their studies. A music therapist and a program that allows parents serving abroad in the military to virtually witness the birth of their child, were also provided.

At the end, the dancers were finally allowed to sit down, but as they awaited the highly anticipated reveal of the total amount of donations, they could hardly stop moving.

“Tonight starts MizzouThon 2016,” one of the dance leaders announced as MizzouThon 2015 came to a close.

“You worry about this day and age, where our humanity and our society is going and what direction its going,” Roberts said. “You see all these stories on the news and there’s negative stuff here and there. And you’re like ‘oh my goodness we’re falling apart,’ and then you see this and you see there’s hope. It’s a phenomenal, phenomenal experience.”

The consensus, by an overwhelming majority, was that MizzouThon hopes to continue to make a difference in the Columbia community, one dance and one dollar at a time.

“It’s something I’ll remember forever,” Ehlers said.​

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