For 20 years, UF students sacrifice sleep, stay on their feet and move to the beat for more than 24 hours over one weekend each spring. They do this in support of the children receiving world-class medical care less than a mile away at the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.This year’s Dance Marathon at UF celebrated its 20th anniversary by raising a record-crushing $1.5 million for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, Gainesville’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.
More than 800 UF students stayed awake and on their feet for 26.2 hours April 12-13 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to symbolize the long periods of pain and obstacles pediatric patients and their families face, said Jamie Heekin, the overall director of Dance Marathon 2014.
“This weekend is more than just a 26.2-hour stand,” Heekin said. “It’s a celebration of the miracles in these kids’ lives and a time to recognize the efforts of more than 5,000 students who have worked and contributed to make this event the most successful student-run philanthropy in the Southeast.”
The event included a closing ceremony that attracted several hundred spectators, friends and families and ended when student organizers revealed this year’s grand total of $1,528,330 — a 30 percent increase over last year’s $1,169,722. All money raised is donated to Children’s Miracle Network at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital for research, technology and diversionary activities for patients, such as video games and art projects.
“It gets pretty exhausting, and it’s hard to keep your mind off the fact that you have been standing for more than 24 hours,” said Matt McKernan, a senior mathematics major who was dancing in his third Dance Marathon. “But when the families are on the stage, we understand why we are doing this, and it keeps you going.”
Dance Marathon at UF began in 1995 with just 79 dancers, who stayed on their feet for 32 hours and raised $12,424 for the children’s hospital. In the past 20 years, more than $8 million has been raised in support of the hospital and the department of pediatrics.