24 hours of hope


Students perform the line dance during Dance Blue 2016 on Saturday, February 27, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

In its 11th annual triumph over tragedy, the UK DanceBlue marathon raised $1,631,067.49 for the Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic.

For 24 hours, more than 800 students stayed awake and standing for different activities, including service projects for local and national organizations, playing with children from the clinic and performing a nearly 13-minute line dance at the top of every hour.

A return to the floor 

Beside hundreds of smiling faces crowding Memorial Coliseum’s floor, biosystems and agriculture engineering freshman R.J. Hijalda has beaten the stage four cancer that once riddled his body.

Hijalda received treatment at the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic to repress and eliminate ten tumors when he was a freshman in high school. 

The four rounds of chemotherapy and 10 days of radiation worked, and now Hijalda, along with his cousin Jodi Llanora, a biology freshman, are the first two freshmen on the DanceBlue Morale Committee.

Their job was to pump the dancers up, keeping them energized and on their feet throughout the night, the morning and the following afternoon. 

At 12:30 a.m., the mission seemed easy. The dancers who Hijalda and Llanora were tasked to motivate did not even need music to find reason to dance. 

The duo became involved in DanceBlue while attending Lexington Catholic High School, which raised more than $100,000 their senior year. 

DanceBlue spokeswoman Allee Williams, who has worked on DanceBlue for three years, said the cousins’ passion is comforting, and she knows DanceBlue will be in good hands for at least three more years.

Building relationships

Marketing senior Daniel Bruington has spent two year-long rotations encouraging, supporting and building relationships with the children at the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic, and he is now in his final year on the Family Relations committee.

Every week, he spent time in the clinic playing games and doing crafts with the kids or talking with patients his own age.  

“I’m 22 and sometimes I’ll go into the clinic and there will be someone who is 26 in there, and we’ll just sit and talk about life,” Bruington said. “Just out of precaution for everything, we try not to know so much about each other that we have an incredibly strong bond, but it’s inevitable to begin caring for these people that you meet and see.”

Despite the difficulty of saying goodbye, Bruington said the DanceBlue Alumni Association gives those like him who are involved with the organization the chance to come back, see the kids, be a part of their lives and donate to their treatment. 

The children look forward to hours of dancing, playing games and eating with their supporters, according to Bruington. He said the committee members get some of the kids so excited that they don’t want to leave for even part of the night. 

“For them to be able to come here and learn the same dance that we do and to play the games that we do and just to see how much people love them — that’s incredible,” Bruington said. “(The children) love it so much they think, ‘These people are here for us, so we’re going to stay here so they can see who 

they’re supporting.’”

More than students

Kelly Holland, a UK Board of Trustees member, has brought her son to four DanceBlue marathons, but this was his first time seeing the fundraising reveal. Holland said meeting the kids improves the university. 

“It has done so much for the atmosphere, the cohesiveness of the student body to rally behind this cause, and it’s really added so much to the culture of the university,” Holland said. “It’s good for my son to learn about what the cause is, and he asked me today, ‘Mom, what is cancer?’” 

In addition to Holland, President Eli Capilouto made an appearance in which he struggled to keep up with the dancers’ hourly line dance. 

“I thought after the first minute, you know, ‘Maybe I can get this.’ But then it went on for like 13 minutes, with mostly new steps,” Capilouto said. “This is why young people do this. I could dance for 13 minutes, I just couldn’t remember all the steps.”

By News Staff

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