Marathon raises money for children

Heather L. Mueller

Whether they got down alone or in groups, Dance Marathon participants grooved together for one purpose – to raise money for children’s medical needs.

About 80 students helped raise $3,500 for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, an independent, nonprofit hospital located in St. Paul that specializes in providing pediatric care for children with disabilities and complex medical problems.

Dance teams from across campus and Gillette patients and their families took to the floor for 12 hours, from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday, inside Cooke Hall. Some stuck it out for the entire event while others danced for a few hours.

Groups registered for the event, the second of its kind on campus, in advance and raised money by asking for donations from friends and family.

One of Gillette’s patients who will benefit from the event is 9-year-old Brandon Wittrock, who attended the event with his parents Jerome and Sheri Wittrock and his younger sister Brittany.

Brandon, who uses a wheelchair to get around, was born three months prematurely with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain.

At birth he weighed less than 2 pounds. His arms were so small that his father could slide his wedding band all the way up to Brandon’s shoulder.

Brandon “walked the death line more than once,” Sheri Wittrock said.

He’s since undergone 25 surgeries and his last surgery, a cranial expansion, involved removing a section of Brandon’s skull to relieve pressure on his brain.

“Our life has changed because of Gillette,” Sheri Wittrock said.

Before the surgery Brandon always seemed to be in a daze and was wheelchair-bound, she said. But now he never stops talking and often leads the conversations at the dinner table.

He also uses a walker at school and is able to stay for the entire day instead of going home at noon.

At one point at the event Brandon wheeled to the front of the dance floor and stood up. He then walked around to show off the success of his surgery and the progress of all his challenging physical therapy.

“I’ve finally gotten it back after all my hard work,” he said.

Sophomore Tony Schuster said he was moved by Brandon’s enthusiasm and quick pace.

“That kid moves faster than me,” he said. “That was awesome!”

Students grazed on a spread of burritos and subs in between moving on the dance floor as Alpha Beat Entertainment provided the music. The bands Roster McCabe and We the Living played later in the evening.

And for those who needed more than a snack break, Guitar Hero and foosball were available.

Variation and motivation were key to keeping the students going all 12 hours.

Each hour, elementary education senior Sarah Fruin led the participants in a morale dance.

Students formed a large circle and followed Fruin’s lead to a compilation of popular tunes that cued dancers to do the “mashed potato” and the “alligator” in between some Britney Spears and Madonna.

Fruin created the routine with the wheelchair-bound children in mind.

“The kids are able to do the dance moves with their arms,” she said.

And in order to mix it up, accounting senior Darren Frederickson and several others from the Ballroom Dance Club showed the room how to cha-cha.

“You’re tired and maybe you don’t even feel like dancing, but it’s fun,” he said. “The kids have a good time.”

Political science junior Tim Schuster said it kept him going to have the children there to dance and play with.

Schuster said Dance Marathon has enormous potential and that personal marketing would help to spread word about the cause.

“I think there’s a misconception that you get donations for how long you dance but it is more of a celebration for the fundraising that went on for the months leading up to the dance,” he said.

No matter how hard the students danced, the money was already in the hands of Gillette and going to provide care for children who otherwise might not get the opportunity to dance the night away.

“It’s nice to know people take the time outside of their lives to live our life,” Sheri Wittrock said.