Dancing for A Cause

By Mona Malacane

Warning, I’m about to state the obvious: It is so easy to get swept up by all the short term deadlines in academia. For example, I am currently looking at my list of things to complete this week and it is full of class readings, running experiments, writing papers, homework, errands, and 15 minute blocks of exercise. If you let it, grad school can hijack your life. Sometimes it feels like I’m walking around with blinders on. My blog story this week snapped me out of the deadline-haze and made me reflect on the things outside of my grad school bubble, which have become way too easy to lose sight of.

This week, I sat down with Andrew Weaver and he shared with me his son Owen’s story. Owen was born three months premature at Bloomington Hospital, weighing only 1 pound, 15 ounces. He was airlifted immediately to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis where he stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit for 4 months. When he was finally able to go home with Andrew and Nicole, he was still on oxygen even though he was healthy and his prognosis was very positive.

Owen the builder

Owen and his banner at the 2013 IUDM.

Owen is now five years old, in kindergarten, a big brother to Nicole and Andrew’s younger son Elliott, and can correctly name all of his toy construction equipment. (If I were psychic I would predict that he is a future engineer in the making.) But he would not be thriving today without the amazing doctors and nurses at Riley. “It’s a research hospital affiliated with IU, and the research that they’ve done there on how to deal with premature infants and how to get their lungs healthier and how much oxygen to give them and when to give to them, it’s all research that they’ve done there at the hospital … and that saved his life,” Andrew explained. So when Andrew and Nicole were contacted by someone at the IU Dance Marathon, which raises money and awareness for Riley Hospital, they of course said yes.

IUDM is a year-long fundraiser that culminates in a marathon where alternating groups of participants (mostly students) stay on their feet for 36 hours, a lot of the time, dancing. But IUDM isn’t just about raising money; it’s also a celebration for Riley families and Riley kids like Owen. “At the marathon itself, they have a bounce house and all kinds of stuff for the kids to do and of course thousands of college students who want to play with them. They [Owen and Elliott] have a great time and always look forward to it.” It is a massive production. There are concerts, bands, games, and speakers; Colts players and IU athletes stop by and shake hands; and many Riley families tell their stories. “There’s a lot going on at different times but they do a great job of planning it so there is always something interesting happening.” To give you an idea of how large of a production the IUDM here are some quants –  it is the second largest student-run philanthropy in the country and it raised $2.6 million last year.

Aside from the millions of dollars they raise, Andrew explained that the students behind this fundraiser are what truly make the organization and marathon special. “What really has an impact on us emotionally is just the lengths that these students are going to and the dedication that they have. Because it’s not just this weekend … they start meeting weekly, twice weekly for some of them, early in the Spring to start planning this year’s event. And they have lots of other events throughout the year,” he said. “The time that they are spending is more than a full-time job for a lot of these students who are in charge of IUDM for months and months … and they are doing it on top of being a student and on top of their own lives. So to see the effort and sacrifices that they make in such a selfless way, it’s amazing.”

Owen at a committee meeting

Andrew and Nicole are now faculty advisers for the whole organization. This is a picture of Owen at one of the committee meetings!

If you want to learn more about the organization you can visit their website , their blog, or watch this amazing video  that explains what the organization is about and even has. The Marathon begins this Friday, November 14 at the Tennis Center! So if you want to see some of the activities you can check it out at the visitors center or there will be a live feed of the entire marathon on their website. Start fundraising now if you’d like to participate next year!

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