For college students, staying awake until two in the morning is normal. Dancing, running, and not sitting down for 12 hours before calling it a night is not. Last Saturday was Jagathon, IUPUI’s signature 12-hour dance marathon charity that benefits Riley Children’s Hospital.
This Jagathon was the first to run from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. instead of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and had a record number of dancers. The crowd was close to 1,000 strong and The Jungle (the gymnasium at the natatorium) stayed packed for the entire night. Jagathon’s central theme is dance for those who cannot, namely the children at Riley.
Since Jagathon revolves around Riley kids, current and former patients alike told their stories onstage. Each story revolved around gratitude for the staff for not only providing excellent health care, but for ensuring that Riley patients are as comfortable as possible during their stay. Families took the time to thank and encourage participants for sharing their time and money.
“Seeing [Riley families] get up on stage and talk about their stories and everything they’ve been through, you can see the hope in their faces,” IUPUI sophomore Holly Miller said.
Some of the Riley kids were able to display their talents, or just have some fun on stage. A young lady named Mickey was going to ribbon dance, but the Colts’ Matt Overton showed up, and they danced to Taylor Swift instead. BJ played the banjo, Braedon sang “Drag Me Down” by One Direction, and Riley performed gymnastics.
This gives the children a chance to connect with the dancers and show that, although it impacts their lives, illness and disability do not define them. They’re more than just sick kids, they’re individuals with unique talents and interests.
“I like watching the kids perform because it makes them seem more real,” Miller said. “It’s easier to not label them as just sick kids or something. Like, these are people that have lives that they’re trying to live.”
Despite the best hopes of families, not all of the Riley family stories had happy endings. To honor children who do not recover, like Megan Weisenbach, who passed away from a degenerative disorder at age 12, her family spoke to the crowd about their loss and had a candlelight vigil. Like the rest of the families, the Weisenbachs reminded everyone that they were there to support children in need.
Participants shouted the mantra “for the kids,” shortened to FTK, to keep themselves energized into the wee hours. In the first hour, color team leaders passed out hospital bracelets for the dancers to wear and remind them that Jagathon wasn’t about them, but the young patients at Riley.
Rosie Tarlton, a freshman at IUPUI and 2015 Riley Champion, explained how much Jagathon meant to her. When Tarlton was three hours old, she was admitted to Riley for a trio of heart problems that could have killed her. Shortly after that, she was diagnosed with auditory neuropathy (hearing loss) and had a Riley audiologist until she was 18 years old.
“I came here last year as Riley family...so this is my second year, but this year I’m a student here at IUPUI and I’m actually a part of putting it together which is a great opportunity,” she said. “It’s amazing to see a whole campus come together for one cause that’s right here on our campus.
“I love giving back to the hospital because they basically saved my life.”
To keep dancers and families entertained, several performances were scheduled throughout the night. Members from Indyprov improv comedy troupe and TG Rivers the hypnotist were onstage for several hours. Rivers hypnotized a large portion of the audience before selecting a number of volunteers to further toy with.
“They have a lot more stage activities that keep us busy instead of us trying to entertain ourselves, which was really nice,” Logan Hensley, IUPUI sophomore, said. “That’s my favorite part is that it’s a lot more interactive.”
An integral part of Jagathon was the color wars, which split dancers into teams based on their affiliations. For example, the pink team was made up of Phi Mu members. Games like life-sized Hungry Hungry Hippos and shaking a record number of hands in one minute maintained a healthy sense of competition and team spirit. The pink team eventually won the color wars. Phi Mu also won the trophy for most funds raised as a group, over $11,000.
In the down time between stories and color war activities, participants were free to occupy themselves with a number of games. Sumo wrestling suits, inflatable hamster balls, and just bouncing a volleyball around were especially popular. If they weren’t dancing, teams often chatted in groups, took selfies, and formed pyramids--anything to shake the fatigue away.
Throughout the night, color team leaders and committee members taught the crowd portions of the “Morale Dance,” a selection of moves that matched a wild mash up of hit songs and pop culture references. At the end of the night, they put it all together. The floor of The Jungle vibrated as almost 1,000 feet stomped in unison.
“It’s really fun. It’s very tiring. Exhausting, but I’m really enjoying myself,” Kierra Santillan, IUPUI sophomore, said. “And everybody dances together, which I love.”
This year, Jagathon had its first-ever Red Bull Run to Riley. About an hour before the total funds were revealed, participants jogged from the IUPUI natatorium to the main entrance of Riley Hospital. At the end, Red Bull sponsor representatives gave free cans of Red Bull to runners to keep them pumped up and wide awake. Later, packs of Red Bull were raffled off to dancers.
Although Jagathon is a celebration of a year of fundraising, committee members and Riley family members carried red buckets as they mingled in the crowd. As a throwback to older fundraising challenges, “MMMBop” was played on loop until $100 was raised. Carter Swathwood, a 2014 Riley Champion, challenged every dancer to raise $13 within an hour.
Jagathon has one rule: don’t sit down. Stay upright and move as much as possible. Be active and have fun in honor of hospitalized children who struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy while they’re at Riley.
As the clock struck 2 a.m. Sunday morning, Jagathon executive board members got onstage and gave thanks to everyone who participated this past year in making Jagathon happen. Then, the line of Jagathon committee members flipped their signs upwards.
The grand total was a new record: $140,049.94, all for the kids.