Guest Opinion: Dance Marathon


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Will Olson was only 2 years old when doctors discovered a large mass on his liver, triggering several rounds of intense chemotherapy and the removal of 75 percent of the organ. Although Will, who is now 6, is in remission, he still faces aftereffects — both physical and emotional — of the disease.

This past weekend, Will and his family had the opportunity to focus on celebrating life and honoring his fellow cancer patients with more than 2,000 members of a unique extended family.

That’s because this past weekend, University of Iowa Dance Marathon — Iowa’s largest student-run philanthropic organization — hosted its 21st-annual Big Event, in which thousands of UI students spent 24 hours in the IMU, dancing and raising money to support children such as Will who are fighting cancer.

I am so very proud that this industrious army of UI students raised more than $2 million to support the UI Children’s Hospital.

And although their main event is over, the students aren’t done — they volunteer and raise money throughout the year through a variety of activities. They also provide year-round emotional and financial support to families at the Children’s Hospital, quickly becoming part of an extended family of people rooting for Iowa’s youngest patients. This group of Dance Marathon students is extraordinary, and they are steadily — and joyfully — making an impact on the lives of patients and families at the Children’s Hospital.

Throughout the past 21 years, this group has raised more than $16.5 million and recently made two significant gifts to the UI Foundation for UI Health Care: an investment of $1 million, in 2008, to establish the UI Dance Marathon Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Research Laboratories, and a 10-year, $5 million pledge, announced in 2011, for the new Children’s Hospital building campaign.

As president of the UI Foundation, I have now participated in eight Dance Marathon events, and I’ve had the privilege to interact with the student leaders of this organization — my daughter Katharine, this year’s sponsorship director, among them. I am in awe of what these students have accomplished. The UI Foundation wholeheartedly supports Dance Marathon and what it does for Iowa’s children.

It is deeply moving to witness the dedication of the dancers, as well as the courage and grace of young patients such as Will and the many others who receive their support.

On behalf of everyone at the UI Foundation, I would like to congratulate this year’s Dance Marathon participants, the leadership team, and all those who support them in their remarkable fight against cancer. I’m grateful for all you do … For The Kids.

Lynette Marshall is president and CEO of the University of Iowa Foundation, a nonprofit organization and preferred channel for private contributions that benefit all areas of the UI.

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