Carstensen participates in Dance Marathon for her sister


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Lura Carstensen says she's a leader because of her sister.

"I kind of do everything for my sister," she said.

This year, Carstensen is the event director of Dance Marathon, a goal she's had since she was a child.
Carstensen first attended the Dance Marathon Big Event 13 years ago with her older sister, Kira Carstensen. Her sister was diagnosed with Leukemia as a 1-year-old and suffered health complications throughout her life.

The sisters danced together for at least 10 Big Events before Kira Carstensen died in February 2007 at 20.

"Kira loved Dance Marathon," Carstensen said. "This is what she wanted to do. It was probably the one weekend where she could forget about everything and be a normal kid. She probably forgot she had cancer when she was here."

When it came time to apply for college, Carstensen said the UI's Dance Marathon program was a large factor.

"I thought about being a leader forever," said the Cedar Rapids native. "After Kira's death, I needed to stay close to home, because my parents really wanted that. There wasn't Dance Marathon [at other schools], and that was always in the back of my head."

Dance Marathon continues to be a family affair for Carstensen. Her parents and older brother attend the Big Event each year, and other family members, across the country watch the live coverage online.

Carstensen isn't the only member of her family who's a leader with the organization.

Her cousin, UI senior Chad Howard, serves as a development director on the executive board.

Howard and Carstensen have both held leadership positions for the past three years.

"Lura's work ethic is extraordinary," Howard said. "She contributes everything she can to better Dance Marathon and makes leadership members around her care for the organization that much more."

As event director, Carstensen will be responsible for checking to see that dancers have something to do at all times during the Big Event.

"She's never afraid of a challenge, expects commitment and quality work from her peers, and continually reminds others why they dance — to help support UI Dance Marathon kiddos and their families," said Courtney Bond, the organizaton's adviser.

Directing the event has given Carstensen the opportunity to witness every side of the organization.

"There's a lot of different aspects that I didn't even know about going into this," she said. "The experience has been much more fulfilling. Once it's over, I'll feel like I've actually accomplished something."

Carstensen has found a passion for helping pediatric patients and works as a child-life assistant at the UI Children's Hospital.

"I'm basically employed by some of the coolest people there," she said. "I get to play with the kids and see them during play time. I'm … just trying to help the kids in any way be as normal as possible."

The hospital has played a major role in Carstensen's life. She chose to study child life because of her sister's stay.

"I would've never picked it if it hadn't been for my experience in the hospital with my sister," she said.

Though she doesn't know where she'll be after graduation, Carstensen plans to continue contributing to Dance Marathon in any way possible.

"Once a dancer, always a dancer," she said.

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