Ryan Robey / For The Lantern
Emotions ran high as tears fell at BuckeyeThon’s closing ceremonies Saturday night when thousands filled the Great Hall of the Ohio Union to await the final results of this year’s fundraiser.
The annual dance marathon, which took place Friday and Saturday in the Ohio Union, raised more than $608,000 for the Hematology and Oncology Department of Nationwide Children’s Hospital – an increase of roughly 34 percent from last year’s more than $450,000.
The proceeds support children whose families cannot afford cancer treatments and also help the hospital to purchase medical equipment to make cancer treatments easier for the kids, according to the BuckeyeThon website.
Dancing took place in the Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom, where monitors displayed scrolling messages with words of encouragement for the dancers. Outside of the ballroom was a host of other activities for dancers and children, including face painting and the opportunity to play video games, keeping with this year’s theme of “Movies and Videos.”
There was also an “inspiration room” where dancers and visitors could see photos and stories of the 17 “miracle children” honored by the event and write notes to each one individually.
But while BuckeyeThon benefits Nationwide Children’s Hospital financially, families said it also makes a difference for the participating children on a more personal level.
“They want the kids to just be kids, and that’s something we don’t always have a lot of luxury (with) at home,” said Rachel Torres, whose 10-year-old son, Luke, has participated in the event for the past three years.
Luke was diagnosed with leukemia in April 2010 and is scheduled to continue chemotherapy until this August. Torres said the event is so important to her family that, even after her 11-year-old daughter, Abigail, broke her arm at recess earlier in the day, the family refused to miss the first round of opening ceremonies on Friday. They went together to get Abigail’s cast put on, but Luke was worried he wouldn’t make it to BuckeyeThon on time.
“He told me to come and drop him off at the Ohio Union, that (the students) would take care of him,” Torres said.
Kiersten McCartney, vice president of operations for BuckeyeThon and a fourth-year in biology, said there were more families participating this year than in any past BuckeyeThon. The kids were split among the event’s eight color teams and introduced in the opening ceremonies by walking a red carpet with family members to the center of the Ohio Union’s Great Hall.
BuckeyeThon also had more than 3,600 registered dancers – double the amount of participants from 2012. McCartney said the total set a new record. In terms of registration, it made this year’s BuckeyeThon one of the largest dance marathons in the history of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals – an organization serving roughly 170 children’s hospitals in the U.S. and Canada.
“It’s a great record for us,” said Suraj Hinduja, president of BuckeyeThon and a third-year in special education. “I think it just goes to show how many students at Ohio State care about BuckeyeThon and care about the kids down at Nationwide Children’s (Hospital) and have been so moved by it.”
The dance marathon was broken into two 12-hour shifts this year to support the growing number of students wanting to take part in the event, McCartney said.
After opening remarks before each of the two shifts, there was a moment of silence in the Ohio Union. Participants were asked to be seated on the floor, and were then called upon to literally stand against cancer.
Alyssa Martig, a second-year in fashion merchandising, danced for the first shift. She said standing for 12 hours was definitely a challenge, but thinking about the children kept her motivated.
“Our bodies aren’t physically used to it, but these kids are – 365 days a year, 24 hours a day – they’re fighting this worse pain … so you just have to keep that in mind, that you can do this because they can do that,” Martig said.
The fire alarm went off at about 2 a.m. Saturday, but it was deemed a false alarm and the dancers kept going.
Hinduja said that, to him, the dance marathon serves two purposes: to give children the night of their lives and to bring a year of advocacy and fundraising to a close.
At the closing ceremonies, BuckeyeThon began a new tradition by awarding a plaque to the year’s top fundraiser. This year’s winner, Sarah Drosos, raised about $1,650. The plaque will be on display in the Ohio Union and have the fundraiser’s name engraved on it. Also on the plaque is a bell that holds a symbolic meaning.
“There is a bell on the Hematology/Oncology floor that patients have the opportunity to ring as long and as loud as they want when they have finished treatment,” Hinduja said.
Nicole Kolodka, a second-year in human development and family science, said she plans to come back for next year’s event.
“I did it (this year) because I heard it was fun, but next year I’m definitely going to do it for the kids because I didn’t realize how emotional it was and how awesome it is for them, too,” Kolodka said.
Torres encourages every student at OSU to take part in BuckeyeThon because of children like her son.
“I always tell my kids they’re heroes, and they actually get to see it every year for BuckeyeThon,” Torres said. “I think all the students at OSU should be involved in some way because I think it would change their lives.”
Hinduja said he was pleased with the results of this year’s event – especially the total fundraising amount, which was more than BuckeyeThon’s goal of $550,000. However, he hopes that some day the event will no longer be necessary.
“I actually look forward to the day that BuckeyeThon no longer exists, because when BuckeyeThon no longer exists, that means we don’t have pediatric cancer, and to me that’s going to be one of the greatest days ever,” Hinduja said.
At the end of the first shift of BuckeyeThon, the Ohio Union Activities Board announced it will host a BuckeyeThon Benefit Concert featuring Kendrick Lamar and Steve Aoki on April 11 at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion. Tickets are available for $10 each, one per valid BuckID. Tickets are scheduled to be released March 20 at 5 p.m. at the Ohio Union’s Information Center.