Students, alumni and community members gathered in the IU Tennis Center for the 32nd annual IU Dance Marathon to raise money for Riley Hospital for Children over the weekend. Sunday morning, after 36 hours of dancing and activities, the organization revealed they raised $3,233,968.23.
The organization announced during the event they have raised $50 million since IUDM first started in 1991. According to the IUDM website, 25% of funds raised go toward clinical expenses and 75% of funds go toward supporting pediatric health research at Riley’s Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research.
The marathon lasted 36 hours, kicking off Friday at 8 p.m. and ending on Sunday at 8 a.m. Many participants are on one of 18 different IUDM committees that help organize and promote specific activities or initiatives for the marathon. A participant could represent their committee by wearing a specific color during the event.
Many Riley Hospital for Children patients and their families attended the event, including four-year-old patient Knox Van Ruler and her parents Sadee and Aaron. Aaron Van Ruler said Knox, who is often called “Foxy Knoxie” by her parents, has been a patient at Riley Hospital for Children since she was born. Knox was born with down syndrome and began treatment for leukemia in May of 2021.
“By IUDM raising money while we are at Riley, we are really aware of the impact that they’ve had that helps our family,” Aaron said.
Sadee Van Ruler said her favorite part about attending IUDM was the supportive environment.
“We have felt really loved, supported, and cheered on by the IUDM community,” Sadee said. “So, we love being able to be a part of whatever events we’re able to attend. Last year, we couldn’t make it because Knox was inpatient at the time, so we’re excited that she’s out of the hospital right now and that we could be here to celebrate with the students.”
Sadee said she is impressed each year by the commitment and energy that students invest to support families like hers.
“We have thousands of students that are currently at IU or alumni that have been a part of the IUDM family that are cheering for us, praying for us, encouraging us, and following along with our story so we feel less alone on our painful journey,” Van Ruler said.
IU junior Lucy Kellison is a member of the IUDM morale committee and has participated in dance marathons for four years, both during high school and two years at IU. She said she joined IUDM to find a sense of community.
“I was really looking for people on campus who were going to do something bigger than themselves and also provide a family aspect, and I feel like I’ve done all of that at IUDM especially on the morale committee,” Kellison said.
Kellison said being able to help patients of Riley Hospital for Children is a driving force behind her involvement.
“When we were growing up, we didn’t have any worries,” Kellison said. “Growing up as kids we just played on the playground and did everything. But seeing these kids who at the time I was going to school, were fighting for their life, come up and thank us is part of the reason.”
IU junior Thomas Leland Wilhoite has been participating in dance marathons for seven years, for four years during high school and three years at IU. Leland Wilhoite is also a member of the morale committee.
“I just love the community that IUDM provides for just anyone a part of IU,” Leland Wilhoite said. “It touches people in an amazing way. With so many people participating and a community that gives so much money, it’s just so incredible and loving, and it can affect IU’s campus.”
This year was the first time that Anna May, the mother of a Riley Hospital for Children patient, attended the event. May’s son Leo is six years old and has down syndrome. May said her family was invited by the Van Ruler family to IUDM this year.
“Coming into this, we weren’t sure what to expect,” May said. “But once we got here it was really, really heartwarming to see the care and thought that goes into everything.”
May said that she would encourage other Riley families to come to IUDM in the future.
“It’s great for the kids,” May said. “This is a safe place. I didn’t have to worry if Leo had behaviors that might pop up that sometimes do with our special kiddos, because nobody’s going to judge him here. He’s not going to get funny looks. He’s just going to get to be a kid being a kid.”