UPDATED: Dakotathon raises more than $84,000 for Children’s Miracle Network
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UPDATED: Dakotathon raises more than $84,000 for Children’s Miracle Network

More than 400 University of South Dakota students are giving up 24 hours of their weekend today to raise awareness and funds for Children’s Miracle Network.

Throughout the day, students will help “Miracle” children and their families forget about their hardships through a variety of activities scheduled throughout campus and Vermillion.

“We’re here to make miracles happen” said Joey Snyder, a member of Dakotathon’s executive board.”

Snyder said the executive board is hopeful Dakotathon will surpass its previous year’s fundraising goal of $56,000, and reach $61,000. The total fundraising amount for this year’s event will be revealed Sunday morning.

The Volante has been at today’s events, and is providing snippets of some of the happenings and people involved in it. Check back later for updates to this story, as The Volante has all-day coverage of Dakotathon.

Story by Megan Card, 9 a.m.

Tears of sorrow and tears of joy were nearly indistinguishable Sunday morning at the University of South Dakota for the closing ceremony of Dakotathon.

Some were shed for 15-year-old Tanna Kingsbury, a miracle child from the last Dakotathon and sister of a former executive team member, who died last year. With dimmed lights and a stirring a cappella hymn, current miracle children cut white wristbands from students’ arms in her memory.

And just as many tears were met by a roar of cheers by students after finding out this year’s Dakotathon 24-hour event raised $84, 453.11 for Children’s Miracle Network, a staggering $20,000 more than their original goal.

“What an incredible 24 hours. Congratulations to everyone who has taken part some way in this fundraiser. It’s really been a year of hard work,” said Ashlin Peitzmeier, senior and overall co-chair of the event.

Last year’s event raised $56,000 for CMN, which raises funds and awareness for children’s hospitals across North America. More than 170 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals care for millions of children each year.

Erin Rohrer, program director for Children’s Miracle Network at Sanford Health, said this fundraiser is no longer a nicety but a necessity for families in the area. More than 60,000 patients visited Sanford Children’s Hospital last year, while more than 20 children were diagnosed with cancer, she said.

“People saw funding for CMN as fun and kind of glamorous. It’s one of those charities that a lot of people know about,” Rohrer said. “But it’s completely a necessity now. Families need this support. What you guys are doing is so fun and wonderful, but I hope you know what you’re doing is necessary for these kids’ recovery.”

Kim Grieve, vice president of Student Services and dean of students, also said a few parting words of congratulations to participants during the closing ceremony.

“Happiness research shows it’s not a personal pleasure that brings us happiness, it is by giving back,” Grieve said. “And you certainly have all done that this weekend. I hope you remember that for the rest of your life and you continue to give back.”



Story by Malachi Petersen, 12:30 a.m.

Junior Krissy Zalut has participated in every Dakotathon since her first year at the University of South Dakota. For her, the event is personal.

“When I was growing up I had a cancer scare and I was one of the lucky ones,” Zalut said. “I ended up having surgery to remove infected lymph nodes and it turned out it wasn’t cancer, but I lived my life for a few weeks thinking it was.”

Zalut said the event allows her to “give back” and contribute time to supporting children who are less fortunate than she was.

“I was lucky and there were so many kids that weren’t as lucky. I love being able to support them and hang out with them today and make it the best day ever,” Zalut said.

This year Zalut was one of the morale co-chairs on the Dakotathon executive team. She said the dance she is helping teach participants took months to plan out.

“When we got back to school, we sat down and picked out songs that we thought would be great,” Zalut said.  “After being involved in Dakotathon for a few years I guess you kind of have a good ear for what would make for a good morale song.”

Jake Louder, a first-year student, said the hardest dance move to learn is the spin and jump move.

“I think I’ve got about 75 percent of it (learned),” he said.

Louder said he was surprised at how impactful the event has been.

“I didn’t know the families were actually going to be here,” Louder said. “Having them here with the kids and hearing what they have to say about it and just hearing what they went through and how it helped them — it has an impact.”


Story by Josie Flatgard, 10:00 p.m.

Halfway through its 24-hour dance marathon, Dakotathon participants and Children’s Miracle Network families gathered in Aalf’s Auditorium at 7 p.m. to take in the entertainment of dueling pianos. Music ranged from “Lion King” numbers to “Bohemian Rhapsody” to “Let It Go,” and finishing with “Piano Man.”

Donette Hebert, from Beresford S.D., and her two daughters, attended to continue dancing the day away.

Both of her daughters — McKenzie, 8, and Mercedes, 11 — were born prematurely.

“Mercedes was born at 27 weeks, and she was one pound, ten ounces when she was born,” Hebert said. “She was in the NIC unit for 116 days, and then I had McKenzie… at 32 weeks, and she was in the NIC unit for 30 days, so big difference from one to the next.”

Children’s Miracle Network was able to provide gas money to and from the hospital and food tickets for them to eat there.

“It’s impressive to see the college kids come out and raise money for the kids,” she said. “At their age, I would’ve never done that type of thing so it always makes me feel good for the future of what these college kids are doing.”

The family is participating in the event for the fifth year. They have been taking in the 24-hour event since 8 a.m. this morning.

“I got one tired,” Hebert said. “Daddy and Mckenzie will go back to the hotel, and Mercedes said she’s going to stay up until 2 a.m. She’s planning to go as long as she can, so we’ll see.”


Story by Braley Dodson, 3:52 p.m.

Dakotathon continued its march across campus by stopping at the Wellness Center, where Miracle children were able to shoot baskets and play a game against the Coyote men’s basketball team.

Brandon Bos, senior guard for the men’s team, played in the game against the Miracle children.

“They’re pretty stiff competition for sure,” Bos said.

Throughout the short game, the basketball team suffered “injuries” and players had to be taken off the court. On several instances, the team lifted Miracle children into the air to help them dunk a basket.

The Miracle children charged the players and ran across the court to chase the ball, with one child being particularly aggressive.

“That girl, she could be the toughest player in our league,” Bos said. “She is a tough cookie.”

The basketball team lost 10-4 against the Miracle children. Throughout the game, Dakotathon dancers chanted “FTK” and booed whenever the men’s team would score.

“Some of them are pretty good little players,” Bos said. “You could see the smiles on their faces.”

After the game, Miracle children threw pies into the faces of the players — a surprise many of the players weren’t anticipating.

Ashlin Peitzmeier, overall co-chair for Dakotathon, organized the game. She said it was a chance to see another side of the team.

“They let loose and had their silly side on and got to have fun with the Miracle children,” Peitzmeier said.

The game was one of many moments intended for the Miracle children in the 24-hour event, designed to raise money and give children a chance to have fun outside of hospitals. As a car pulled up outside of the Wellness Center, one child looked at the building and said, “This isn’t the hospital.”

Story by Natalie Keller, 12:30 p.m. 

Emma Bader is 14 years old. She is in band, orchestra and taekwondo. Looking at her, one would think she’s a normal teenage girl.

But Emma was born at only 26 weeks into the pregnancy and weighed four ounces, leaving her in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for four months.

Her mother, Hope, said they have been coming to Dakotathon for about nine years now and are thankful for the Children’s Miracle Network.

“This is just her way of participating,” Hope said. “CMN did a lot as far as buying the equipment that kept her alive.”

The family was at the Vermillion Middle School this morning to hear stories from other families, eat lunch and dance.

Emma has had five surgeries, such as heart and eye surgeries. She is also deaf and has worn hearing aids since she was six months old.

Hope said she is doing well and will be attending high school in the fall. Hope said Emma is also very busy with all of her activities.

“She’s just going crazy,” Hope said.

Hope said this event is important for them because families like hers are able to meet up, talk and be together. It also allows the students to understand how they’re helping these families.

“It’s important for the students to see why they do this, to see the kids, to be with the families, to get a sense of why they stay up, why they raise the money,” Hope said. “It puts a face to the reason.”

Hope said she didn’t anticipate ever being in this situation, but she has been able to grow close to other families that have been in her place.

Emma plans on staying up all night and said the Children’s Miracle Network and Dakotathon event inspires her.

“It saved my life and it will always be my life,” Emma said.