Jagathon, IUPUI’s Dance Marathon benefiting Riley Hospital for Children, is one of the campus’s biggest traditions. On March 3 and 4, students spent 16 hours in the Campus Center geared up in their bright fundraising team colors to support the patients, families and research at Riley.
This year, they raised $320,032.25, adding to the organization’s historic fundraising total of more than $3 million.
The mission is one that hits close to home for many of the students. On the entrance to the event space on the fourth floor of the Campus Center, participants wrote their “why,” citing friends or family members who received treatment at Riley. But for Addison Misch, Jagathon’s vice president for external relations, it was something she experienced first hand.
“I am a Riley kid,” Misch said. “My Riley story started the summer before my sixth-grade year, when mom walked in on me during vacation having a seizure.
“I had an MRI at my local hospital, and then they sent me directly to Riley, where I had a 16-hour surgery to remove a tennis-ball-sized brain tumor from under my skull that was pressing on my brain. That’s the reason why I started fundraising for Riley and getting into Dance Marathon, which eventually led me to IUPUI after my senior year of high school. ”
Misch, a junior majoring in art education in the Herron School of Art and Design, is one of many students on the executive board who led the event. They organized everything, including fundraising, games, the dancing, the food and the moving Riley speakers.
During the night, groups competed in their color teams in games like “hungry hungry hippo” and “ships and sailors.” They also spent time learning the morale dance, a choreographed routine to a mix of popular music, viral TikTok sounds and movie soundtracks. There was no shortage of activities to keep everyone energized and on their feet.
“We have bouncy houses, we have VR, laser tag, we have lots of things, but I’m most excited for Silent Disco this year. We have over 400 headphones for all of our participants to use and multiple channels of music,” Misch said during the event. “We’ve never had that before, and this year there was something about it at 3 a.m. that got everyone pumped up and going again.”
The stories of Riley patients kept the students going as well. Six-year-old Abbey Akel was among those who stood up with her family to share their journey. When she was 2 years old, Akel was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare bone marrow disease where the body stops producing new blood cells. After receiving immunosuppressive treatment at Riley, she is now in remission.
“I loved the Riley stories; it was just so interesting, and I teared up at a lot of them,” senior Ava Thompson said. “It’s just nice to feel a part of something, and knowing that Riley is just at the back door for us, it feels even better to be here and support it.”
Early in the morning, students got to go see Riley Hospital for Children for themselves. They ran about a mile from the Campus Center to the hospital where their hard work will help make miracles happen.
“We’re all tired, and we’ve been up all night,” sophomore Grace Gasaway said. “But to actually go to the hospital where we know there are all these kids being treated and we’ve been hearing the stories for all the kids was cool because that’s why we’re all here. I know I’m tired now, and I’m going to go home and sleep, but what that is compared to all the kids who are going through chronic illnesses is nothing.”
When they reached the final moments of the marathon, there were cheers, dances and a lot of emotions. Participants stood in a hope circle as leaders read the “why I dance” entries written on the wall. There were tears as their event bracelets were cut, symbolizing the hopeful end of a Riley patient’s stay. And as the cardboard signs revealed the $320,023.25 raised, the room erupted with excitement, realizing the life-saving impact they made.
“Dance Marathon has this unique way of touching all hearts, no matter if you’re directly connected to Riley Hospital or not,” Misch said. “Dance Marathon truly brings people together and rallies them around a cause, and I think that was the emotion we were feeling in the room.
“All of the kiddos that had been fighting, all of the kiddos that we’ve lost, were in that room with us, and I’m just so glad, so happy and so proud that we were able to support them in this way and have an amazing year at Jagathon.”