Midnight – With the final stage of Dance Marathon, Fear Factor at the Wellness Center was wrapping up a long, but donation-worthy day for University of South Dakota students.
A nice touch to the dance was added, as the dancers and kids all perfected their routines from the Toy Story hit, “You’ve got a friend in me.”
Sophomore dancer Mark DiMaria said the day was a full-blown success.
“This is my second year partaking in the events and it’s been so much fun. The parents truly appreciate it, and it’s an honor for us to lighten the kids days,” DiMaria said. “We just want these kids to feel normal, and we got to enjoy an entire day with them, so I think we accomplished that.”
The entire string of dance routines were put together once and for all in the Wellness Center gymnasium. Adrenaline pumping, DiMaria said they could go for another 15 hours from the excitement of the day.
“I would definitely go for longer if we had the time and space,” Dimaria said. “But in the end, the day is done, and we did everything we wanted to.”
The closing ceremony for USD’s Dance Marathon 2013 begins at 8 a.m. in the Muenster University Center’s ballroom.
11 p.m. – Thirteen years ago, Denise Mammenga came upon the news that she was pregnant, and said it was one of the happiest days of her life. To add even more excitement to the already good news, she was going to be having identical twins.
But the 36-week road to motherhood was not total bliss for Mammenga. During a normal check-up, the doctor diagnosed Mammenga’s fetuses with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a condition in which the balance of blood between the two twins is offset, resulting in a variety of other medical issues later on if they survive.
After only 27 weeks of pregnancy, the twins were removed via C-section and Mammenga compared one of the babies to the size of a Coke can.
Today, Ashley and Alyssa are two average, healthy, blonde teenagers that are looking forward to learning how to drive.
This marks the seventh year the Mammenga family has attended Dance Marathon at USD, and Mammenga said the fact that college students gave up an entire Saturday to support something like this is impressive.
“It’s a phenomenal thing to see so many young kids come together to make these kids feel awesome and to help them feel normal for a day,” Mammenga said. “They have no idea how much this helps.”
The Sioux Falls mother said it is important for people to realize the influence those participating in Dance Marathon have on all the miracle children partaking.
“It’s just inspiring,” Mammenga said.
Mammenga concluded that the support shown today is respectable, and that the experience college students will gain from this is something they will never be able to fully fathom.
“These (college) kids are going to have families someday, and at some point, Children’s Miracle Network will probably have a hand in their child’s health,” Mammanga said. “Until something as awful as hearing your child has a problem and you can’t control it, you just don’t know how much something like Dance Marathon really means.”
9 p.m. – As Dance Marathon volunteers and “Miracle Kids” bopped and swayed in the crowd together at the Paradise Fears concert, the Vermillion-based band played a lineup of original songs and classics, punctuated by playful banter with the audience.
“Let’s hear it for the people in the blue shirts!” lead singer Sam Miller called on more than one occasion, referring to the younger members of the crowd and their family members, who were donning light blue T-shirts.
Miller said Paradise Fears was “humbled” to play at the Dance Marathon event.
“We grew up here, so we know the force for good that is Dance Marathon,” Miller said. “They reached out to us, and it was an easy thing to say yes to.”
In between songs, Miller stepped up to the microphone and scanned the crowd.
“I know for some of you, this is probably your first concert,” he said, smiling at the kids in the front row.
Alyssa Block, a Dance Marathon alumni who graduated last May and has participated in the event seven times, said the concert was an important rite of passage for children in attendance.
“These kids have been in and out of the hospital during their childhoods,” Block said. “Going to concerts is part of growing up, and I think it’s really important and really good for them.”
The band closed the show with a cover of Gym Class Heroes’ “The Fighter,” which they said they had not played live before.
“There goes a fighter,” Miller sang. “That’s what they’ll say to me… This one’s a fighter.”
3 p.m. – One year to the day of her remission, nine-year-old Anna Mohlenhoff sits at a table with several USD Dance Marathon volunteers and other children of similar age. The colorfully-clad Mohlenhoff grins as Dance Mohlenhoff volunteer Christian Hansen tags her as the “goose” in the table’s game of “Duck-Duck-Goose!” and chases Hansen around the table, giggling joyfully.
For Mohlenhoff, today represents exactly one year of remission after battling a brain tumor; her mother, Jenna, said the Dance Marathon event is extremely significant to her and her daughter.
“Last year, we came down here on Friday for our first Dance Marathon ever. She got chemotherapy in the morning and then had a blood transfusion and then we drove down here,” Mollenhoff said.
Mollenhoff said Anna has looked forward to returning to Dance Marathon since her experience last year.
“Then as soon as we get back on I-50 to go home, she’s asking about next year. For the past year, she’s been asking ‘when do I get to see Ashley (Dance Marathon family chair) again? When do I get to see the guy who gave me piggy-back rides?’”
Mollenhoff said as a parent, she appreciates everything Dance Marathon represents.
“Its unique to see the relationship that develops when a college student takes time to to learn about a third grader. After everything they’ve been through, for someone to take interest in them, as a parent thats a miracle in itself.”
And for Anna, the one year remission anniversary makes today’s event extra special.
“Its an extra special reason for us to celebrate.”
10 a.m. – Adrienne Weidenbach, 9, of Yankton, SD has attended the University of South Dakota’s Dance Marathon for three years and counting. Her mother, Billy, said that “she loves to dance,” and that she regularly attends dance classes in her hometown.
Her love for the activity shined as she swung around with her two new friends, sophomore Ashlin Peitzmeier and senior Holly Carlson, learning the new steps to the morale dance, a dance that is performed by all the volunteers.
Adrienne was diagnosed with leukemia when she was just four years old. However, this year was the year to celebrate. St. Patrick’s Day marked the three-year anniversary of Adrienne’s remission, and the family couldn’t be happier.
While most of her siblings enjoy dancing, Adrienne has a little extra pep in her step knowing that she is a fighter.
9 a.m. – As junior Allison McEntee shimmies to “Gangnam Style” wearing her neon green Dance Marathon shirt, her mind wanders to thoughts of a young classmate from middle school. A girl she watched fight for her life after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
McEntee said as she participates in the University of South Dakota’s student-run philanthropy to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, she remembers the support her classmate received from the organization.
“Meeting the miracle child is an incredible experience, it is difficult to truly describe it,” McEntee said. “Seeing the looks on their faces, knowing that many have had to go through surgeries, radiation, chemo to stay alive – these kids are an inspiration.”
McEntee was joined by hundreds of USD students in the Muenster University ballroom March 23, as they awaited the arrival of their sponsored miracle children and families. Forming a tunnel for the kids to run through as they reached the ballroom brought applause and smiles from family members.
Dance Marathon is one of the campus’ biggest philanthropy events of the year. USD has hosted the event for the past 16 years.
The goal this year, according to senior Mandi Janicek, co-chair, is to raise $60,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network funds raised go to local families at the Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls.
At the time of publication, the DM website’s donation meter showed $25,501, but Janicek said the total number of donations is much closer to their goal. The actual amount raised will not be released until closing ceremonies.
Volante coverage will continue throughout the day as Dance Marathon moves around Vermillion.