By Rocky Chambers

“Jeans,” everyone laughed, “that’s a bold choice.”

I heard this repeatedly at raiseRED, an eighteen-hour dance marathon raising money for children with pediatric cancer and blood disorders.

As a first-year dancer, I was completely unprepared for the marathon. Fighting off sleep and dancing isn’t exactly my forte. Throughout the marathon, though, I experienced how U of L stays true to the Cardinal principles and how the campus came together to create something special. 

The morale keeps climbing

The moment I entered raiseRED, I was struck by the positivity floating in the air. The Student Activities Center was filled with smiles, good morale, and people already dancing. My first order of business was meeting with my morale leader, the person responsible for my morale group.

My leader introduced me to the group I would spend the next eighteen hours with, giving me my raiseRED rite of passage: our team shirt and a fanny pack. After being equipped with the essentials, everyone was herded into the main ballroom for the pledge to stay. Synchronically, hundreds of dancers vowed to stay the full eighteen hours in support of raiseRED. 

While I initially was uncertain about the commitment, looking around at the determination of others told me this was serious. Afterward, our team rotated into our first line dance practice station.

The line dance is a nine-minute dance comprised of a plethora of songs. All dancers perform the dance leading up to the last hour’s reveal of the total amount fundraised for the marathon. This was also when my group was introduced to Camila, an eight-year-old girl diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, who had the most enthusiasm of anyone I met that night. For weeks I had been fundraising for the marathon, but seeing Camila and her family helped me realize why it was so crucial to do so. She put the importance of the marathon in perspective.

Acknowledging the grief

After some long hours passed, dancers attended the “grief talk”. RaiseRED families spoke on the harsh reality of fighting for their kids’ lives. The atmosphere was surreal for many; most people understood the difficulty of caring for a sick family member or friend. The talk concluded with a therapist speaking on how to deal with grief. I remembered her emphasis most on the importance of community.

That’s when I realized raiseRED creates a community that offers grief support; not just for the families we were fundraising for, but for everyone attending the marathon. We all had a uniform goal.

As Katie Hayden, the programming director of the marathon, put it, “I dance for all of our raiseRED families and for the hope that one day we will be dancing in celebration of a cure.”

The 18 hours wind down

The night took on a lighter tone after the grief talk. Dancers enjoyed hours of basketball, cornhole, a dodgeball tournament, and more. My sweaty jeans stood out among the smarter people with shorts. By this point, we were entering the final hours and the sun started to rise over campus.

During the penultimate hour, dancers divided into their groups for one more line dance recital. The sleep deprivation from my group alone was palpable. Droopy eyes and slouched posture had turned us into a dancing zombie hoard.

Finally, all dancers pilgrimed to the main ballroom for the last official line dance. With our backs turned to the stage, all dancers performed our official line dance.

Though a bit sluggish, we made it through with everything we had left to see the total amount raised for the marathon: $551,954 dollars, and 66 cents.

Though I dreaded the night going in, I felt accomplished at that reveal. I witnessed firsthand what our campus is willing to do for families in need and how we use community outreach to accomplish it. I recommend attending the raiseRED marathon to every student for support against pediatric cancer and blood disorders.

Just stick with shorts.

File Photo // Hevin Ramsey, The Louisville Cardinal //