Written By: Emma Suttell
As the sun rose on Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on October 26th, we put on our colored polos and filled the stands to unite as one before beginning Dance Marathon at the University of Florida’s annual Transform Today. Tasked with a mission to raise as much funds as possible for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in 26.2 hours, we headed to the Reitz Union to kickoff the two-day event with a Miracle Story, speeches of inspiration and, of course, the 2021 Line Dance.
Captains, Ambassadors, Assistant Directors and Overalls alike engaged in activities throughout the morning, such as an intense Simon Says tournament and some relaxing yoga to fend off any early fundraising nerves.
The morning continued with bonding in the Spirit Room through listening to hourly Miracle Stories hosted by the Family Relations team. Motivated by the journeys of these Miracle Families, we wrote emails, canned at various locations on and off campus and passionately posted on our social media.
The ground outside of the Reitz was covered in encouraging notes and sentiments left by members throughout the day. Messages like “Kids Can’t Wait” and “Choose Change” lay beneath the feet of anyone who entered the building to remind them of Dance Marathon at UF’s mission.
For some members, Transform Today marks an annual rededication to the mission of DM at UF and is a powerful way for them to share their commitment to the cause. Mazzy J., a Miracle Child, said that being involved in Dance Marathon in college is something that is high on her priority list as she heads into her senior year of high school.
“It’s a really big event for everybody on campus because it’s like a mini marathon,” Mazzy said. “I think I’ve been coming for 5 years … and it’s my last year sadly, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
For others, this year’s Transform Today marked their official introduction to the DM at UF community and their first time getting to stand in a room surrounded by other students fighting for the same cause.
Camila Acevedo from the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) Unit 42 said that in her team meetings, her Captains have been focusing on the true meaning of Transform Today and getting her unit “hyped for the event.” She especially loved visiting the Hands Helping Shands booth outside of the Reitz to add her handprint and her “Why DM” to the wall.
Second-year Leadership Development Captain Willow Oblin said, “It is really meaningful because at the end of the day the whole wall will be filled, and we are able to see how many people are supporting the patients at Shands.”
Oblin added that her favorite part of Transform Today is getting to join her ELP Unit in all of the activities and watch their passion for DM grow throughout the event.
As mid-day approached and all of the miracle makers were growing hungry, we headed to Bento and Chipotle to refuel before the evening ahead, all while paying-it-forward with the help of the locations’ Hospitality Nights.
The merchandise table was covered with the new “We Won’t Back Down” Collection, which appeals not only to DM at UF members but also the entire campus.
Merchandise Captain Dailey Dellenbach said, “[The new collection] is inspired by Gainesville and the UF community and the Tom Petty song, “I Won’t Back Down. We tried to tie in Dance Marathon with the UF community and bring it together. It’s all about the cause connection.”
Additionally, members had the chance to view a short film directed by a Dance Marathon alumni. “White Fire,” written and directed by Corey Crumpacker, tells the story of Crumpacker’s younger brother who was a patient at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. Many of us were moved to tears during the showing and were newly motivated to continue our fundraising efforts after watching such an impactful story.
That evening, we convened on Norman Field for Our Journey, a celebration of the day’s efforts and a push into the final hours of Transform Today. Miracle Child Nate and his mother gave a powerful speech about how Kids Can’t Wait. The young man stepped forward to band several members who had successfully raised $1,000. Those who watched the banding cheered and shed tears for their friends and family who had reached such a monumental milestone.
According to Merchandise Captain Kalie Wright, “Transform Today [helps us realize] how much of a family everybody truly is. I know we always say that Dance Marathon is a family, but it takes events like these to really see it in its true light.”
Efforts did not stop overnight. Captains attended an appreciation and bonding event, where laughing ensued over songs curated to match each team’s title. The Morale Team completed an epic run from UF’s campus all the way to Shands Children’s Hospital.
The next morning, joy radiated throughout the Reitz North Lawn as we gathered to conclude Transform Today. In a morning full of canning, games and Line Dancing, hugs and memories were shared all in celebration of the past 26.2 hours.
As night fell on Flavet Field, dozens of student organizations descended to celebrate Moralloween, all donned in costumes ranging from “101 Dalmatians” to “Trolls” to an inflatable sloth. Eagerly awaiting the final fundraising total reveal, members visited booths hosted by ELP Units, student clubs and Mini Marathon high schools.
Grace Tyler, an Ambassador and previous Leadership Development Captain, stood behind her organization’s booth cheering on her members and telling them some of her own inspiring experiences as part of DM at UF.
“As a senior, I really wanted to work to bring new girls in and get new Dancers and raise money with our organization,” she said. “Watching other people in my organization get to interact with Miracle Children and have that moment that I had when I first met the Miracle Children has been amazing.”
Running around the event to ensure that every Miracle Child and Family was having the time of their lives, Morale Assistant Director Logan Foster shared his vision for Moralloween. When he first started in DM as an ELP, he found that Moralloween was one of his favorite events of the year.
“It’s been crazy,” he said. “I think the highlight has been seeing the passion and community come together. A lot of our Miracle Children might not get to experience Halloween or trick-or-treating, so being able to bring the Halloween spirit to them through Moralloween means so much to me.”
The final reveal had us jumping to hug our friends, laughing with joy and screaming with excitement. Celebrating the $589,484.19 miracles made over the past 26.2 hours was definitely a highlight of the experience. Ending the night with one final Line Dance, everyone celebrated what we had finally accomplished. We had Transformed Today.