During my sophomore year of high school, nearly five years ago, the outgoing freckly freshman that sat in front of me during geography class had been absent for nearly two and a half weeks.  It is a small school of one thousand students, with small classrooms and an even smaller tolerance for well-kept secrets—so inherently, rumors had been tossed around that Katie was sick. Really sick.

A few weeks later our principal eloquently broke the news that Katie had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer found in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, bone marrow, and other sites. He remained positive, and so did we.

Our high school hosted a dance marathon for Riley Hospital for Children that year and every year after with Katie’s initials written on each of our sleeves to remind us and motivate us to contribute to a foundation that cures troubles much bigger than our own.  Katie spoke at each marathon as a Riley child, influencing us with her story and telling of the hardships she had overcome as a high school student going through treatment.  And she did it with a smile on her face every single time.

The summer before my senior year of high school, a friend of mine asked me to join our dance marathon executive committee and help plan the marathon for the upcoming school year.  Our committee of eleven students picked a day, organized the event, and patiently anticipated the day where our hard work would pay off.

Unfortunately, Katie couldn’t make it to our marathon that year, as she was in the hospital, too ill to come and speak in front of hundreds of her peers.  However, she called into marathon and we connected the phone to a loud speaker because she insisted that she personally thank us all for the time and money we had donated to Riley.  We raised $21,500.19 at the marathon that day, a school record.

A week later, Katie passed away. Her funeral was held in the gymnasium of our school, where thousands came to offer thanks to the person who taught each of us how to endure life’s difficulties with a smile on our face and the support of great friends and family.

This is why I participate in Indiana University Dance Marathon.

However, participating in IUDM does not always require as big of a time commitment as being a committee member. As much as I encourage involvement in IUDM through joining a committee, not everyone’s schedules allow them to do so; therefore, IUDM has developed many other ways for students to participate in the marathon.

For example, Danger Group Representative (DGR) applications are now live and you can go to http://www.iudm.org/dgr/ to apply. DGRs are the liaisons between the IUDM Executive Council/Committee Members and the dancers. For each organization or group of dancers participating in the marathon, there is a group of DGRs who help guide and assist them through the marathon.

Last year when I danced in the marathon, around hour twenty-eight, one of my DGRs rubbed my back for a half hour and encouraged me to keep going for the kids. They are an amazing support group and it’s a great way to contribute and partake in the marathon without the huge time commitment. DGRs are an important part of IUDM, and I encourage anyone who still wants to get involved to apply.

If you have any other questions on how to get involved, visit the IUDM website http://www.iudm.org/ and check out the “Get Involved” page.

By: Maria Page