After 18 hours straight in their dancing shoes, more than 1,000 UofL students had one last dance to go to see if their pleas to help pediatric cancer research were good enough.
The last song was mix of some of the hits they’d listened to during the raiseRED Dance Marathon, Friday and Saturday, in the SAC Multipurpose Room.
As the words “I’m gonna stand by you” from Rachel Platten blared from the speakers, raiseRED’s executive board unveiled the total amount raised number by number on poster boards: $459,402.50.
The crowd erupted. On stage, raiseRED’s executive board hugged, cried and pumped their fists in the air, celebrating a year of hard work.
The 2017 total is the most the group has ever raised. More than 1,100 dancers, also a record, participated in the marathon. Each dancer committed to raise at least $100 to participate.
“I thank you for believing in our mission and giving hope to these families,” said Ellie Romes, operations director for raiseRed.
Money goes directly to support pediatric cancer research and care at the University of Louisville. As the students celebrated their success, Ashok Raj, MD, stood not far away in awe of the students, admiring their “selflessness, compassion and love.”
Raj, UofL’s interim chief, division of pediatric hematology and oncology, went on to explain,”We had 78 families last year that heard those four dreaded words: your child has cancer.”
The money raised from raiseRED can have a huge impact on young patients and their families. Money from the fundraiser has helped fund research on cancer vaccines, as well as provided clinical improvements to support families, including a full-time social worker.
Raj arrived at around 8 a.m. Saturday to cheer the students on and let them know he stood with them. He said he would never be able to find the right words to thank them for their service.
“This just makes you feel like humanity still exists,” Raj said.
The marathon kicked off at 6 p.m. Friday. Throughout the night, dancers heard words of encouragement from those impacted by pediatric cancer. It was also fun, though, with themed-hours like a “Rave Hour,” “Hakuna Matata,” and “2 Legit 2 Sit.”
Supporters also stopped by, including interim President Greg Postel, Louie the Cardinal Bird, UofL student athletes, The Kentucky Derby Festival Princesses and even some Disney Princesses.
Leigha Moore, a sophomore from Union, stood not far from the stage after the final announcement, exhausted, but joyful. She’s danced in the marathon for four years, and each year, sees the amount raised beat the previous year.
She started dancing because she’s known people touched by cancer.
And though the 18-hour marathon takes it’s toll on her, she said it was worth it to be able to step up and help families and the community.
“It’s really emotional to see this total,” Moore said.
‘Running Man’ joins the cause
Connor Jackson, an engineering student from Mt. Sterling, could hear some of the students from back of the room. He was not among the dancers – he instead spent a good portion of the evening on a treadmill, running to support the fight against pediatric cancer.
Whenever he stepped off of the treadmill, another student hopped on to keep the treadmill going. In all, students ran 193 miles. Jackson ran 52.4 – the equivalent of two marathons – on his own. His friend, Alex Lavesque, a Bowling Green sophomore, ran 20.2 miles.
Jackson, dubbed “Running Man” for the night, said the dancers and families stopped by to offer support. And from the stage, he could hear some of the stories from families who had been impacted by raiseRED.
“Some of the stories got me misty-eyed,” he said.
raiseRED is continuing to take donations online at raisered.org. Photos from the event are available online.