It all started with one kid. He was a courageous and inspiring individual even in the face of much adversity, but a kid nonetheless.
Ryan White, from Kokomo, IN, contracted HIV from a contaminated blood treatment that was needed as a result of him being a hemophiliac, which is someone whose body cannot control coagulation (a needed function to stop bleeding, even from minor cuts). He was given six months to live.
At the time of the diagnosis in December 1984, HIV/AIDS was a highly misunderstood disease, and parents and faculty members of the school that he attended fought hard against White’s attendance despite the fact that doctors said that he did not pose a threat to anyone. The superintendent at the time even denied a formal request for his re-admittance, which then began an 8-month legal dispute.
What resulted from this battle was extensive media coverage, something that White used to his advantage to educate the public about AIDS. He became a national sensation and advocated for more AIDS research alongside a few notables such as Magic Johnson, Arthur Ashe, and Kimberly Bergalis.
The support from big names in Hollywood didn’t stop there. The likes of John Mellencamp, Elton John, Michael Jackson, President Ronald Reagan, and Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight all stood by his side through his legal battles and after his death in April 1990.
Although it was unfortunate to lose such an iconic teen, he left a legacy that continues on to this day. The U.S. Congress passed the Ryan White CARE Act, which is the largest federally funded program in the U.S. for people living with HIV/AIDS. His death also inspired Elton to create the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Above all, White forever changed the way the nation viewed the HIV/AIDS. That sure is one lasting impression from such a young individual.
White was to attend Indiana University in Bloomington the fall of 1990, so to commemorate his life and legacy, the Indiana University Dance Marathon (“IUDM”) was created the following year. What started out as a memorandum quickly turned into a full-blown fundraising event benefitting Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Every penny earned goes directly to the hospital, with some of the proceeds being used to open up the Ryan White Infectious Disease Clinic to take care of the hospital’s sickest children. Every day, they go through things neither you nor I could ever imagine enduring.
Another light of inspiration that came out of darkness occurred on April 12, 2005. Ashley Louise Crouse, a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and IUDM Executive Counsel, passed away that day. The marathon was a passion of hers, and it is with that spark that IUDM has progressed into something that was unimaginable when it began. Ashley serves as an inspiration and a reminder to live everyday to the fullest and reach for your highest potential.
IUDM has become the second-largest student-run philanthropic event in the world. Over 900 committee members work year-round to make this event happen in the fall semester. As the name suggests, it is a dance marathon, but it is more than that. IUDM goes for 36 hours, spanning an entire weekend, from Friday night to Sunday morning. Around 2,000 participants (AKA dancers) spend these hours awake and on their feet. Yes, 36 hours on their feet. If that isn’t dedication for a cause, then I don’t know what is.
IUDM includes a 12-minute line dance that is learned throughout the weekend, Riley Hospital family stories, food, entertainment, and music at all times of the day and night. Through the dancers’ efforts, the marathon has raised millions of dollars. Last year alone, IUDM raised over $2 million! This marathon is by the kids, for the kids.
Of course, IUDM would not be possible without the support from family, friends, alumni, corporate sponsors, and one another. It is through this collective effort that the marathon is as successful as it is year after year. With IUDM, there is hope, there is health, and there is healing.
Check out a video of last year’s marathon to gain a true understanding of what it is all about:
If you would like to donate to this amazing cause, click this link. Every donation, big or small, makes a huge difference!