About 100 IU Dance Marathon members and Riley Hospital for Children kids and families ran, cartwheeled and cheered across the football field as a part of IUDM’s Riley at the Rock event.
Five-year-old Gavin Gendron and 10-year-old Riley Lesh had both participated in Riley at the Rock in previous years.
Paul and Kristin Gendron, Gavin’s parents, have been participating in the partnership with IUDM and Riley Hospital for Children for three years.
“One of the families that was a part of IUDM mentioned it to us, and we felt that it would be a great way to get involved with Riley and IU,” Paul Gendron said. “Gavin loves it, because it’s his time, I mean, where a lot of the students really focus on him. It makes him feel special. It really does. We’ve done as many activities as we can.”
Gavin was diagnosed with leukemia when he was only nine months old. He was the youngest leukemia patient at Riley’s.
During the tailgate, Gavin played football with IUDM members. He even made a few touchdowns.
“Did you see when I made the last touchdown?” Gavin said.
For the past five years, IUDM has organized Riley at the Rock, a tailgate event that gives Riley’s patients the opportunity to spend quality time with the IUDM members at an IU football tailgate.
After the tailgate, the IUDM participants and the Riley kids and their families go behind the Quarry gates and run on the field before kickoff.
During a break in his football game, Gavin said he was really excited about running across the IU football field.
“We basically do what you expect an IU tailgate to be, but we try to make it focus on the kids,” said Neil Johnson, IUDM’s director of recruitment. “The kids love it. Some people put them on their back, on their shoulders. Some people have races ... It’s a really cool event for the kids to have that IU tailgate feel and we try to make the kids feel special.“
About 50 IUDM members and 50 Riley families participate in Riley at the Rock every year.
Thanks to a partnership with IU Athletics, IUDM has been able to sell about on average of 200 tickets per game.
Julie Troyer, IUDM president, said IUDM’s goal is to make sure the kids are as happy as they can be when they have events like this.
“Every event we put on for them is just to make them feel extra special and important and know how much we do care about them and appreciate what they do and how inspiring they are to us,” Troyer said. “It really is just an event to have fun and come out. We like to have fun here. In past years, it’s always been really great for the kids.”
Lesh has participated in a total of 100 high school and college dance marathons for Riley.
Lesh and her best friend, 11-year-old Natalie Young, were both born premature. They were excited and ready to run across the field.
“I feel awesome,” Lesh said.
After the tailgate, IUDM and the Riley families gathered at the practice field to stretch and take a group picture.
Then, IU Athletics coordinators guided the participants into the building that led to the football stadium’s field.
The IUDM members and Riley families cheered to get pumped up.
Finally, the announcer introduced IUDM and Riley and everyone rushed out onto the field. Some of the kids were on the backs of IUDM members. Some, like Lesh, were doing cartwheels.
The audience in the stands clapped for the participants as they watched their enthusiasm on the field.
Even though the event is one of the newer events, Johnson said he thinks that it will only grow.
“The kids like it a lot,” he said. “I think it’s only going to get bigger and better.”
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