Hundreds of students danced nonstop for 25 hours on Saturday through Sunday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of UGA Miracle’s Dance Marathon, which raised $1,251,410.20 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“[Over the years], UGA Miracle has raised more than $9.8 million for Children’s,” said Lydia Stinson, senior program coordinator at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “They have truly helped make miracles in our hospital by kids being able to walk again or ring the bell from finishing their cancer treatment.”
The amount raised supports Children’s Rehab Services and the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. UGA Miracle helped fund the construction of Children’s new aquatic therapy pool, which is home to one of the only pediatric aquatic therapy pools in the Southeast. When they first raised $1 million, the large gym on the inpatient rehab floor was named the UGA Miracle Gym.
“Last year, we saw patients from 27 states at the Aflac Cancer Center,” said Stinson. “Every dollar they raise truly makes a difference in a child’s life and helps our staff provide the best care.”
Crysie Grelecki, UGA Miracle family mom, started attending Dance Marathon 10 years ago with her husband and three Miracle kids. She remembers her first year when the students raised more than $300,000.
“My husband and I, both Auburn fans, left that weekend a decade ago with full hearts,” said Grelecki. “We could not believe what we just witnessed at UGA.”
She said the event has grown all of her children’s confidence over the years from interactions with the UGA students. Her son, Parker, diagnosed with hydrocephalus, has been up on the Dance Marathon stage telling his story since he was 2 years old.
“He goes to Dance Marathon feeling like a rock star because he is celebrated, and the confidence he gains from this filters over into every aspect of his life,” she said.
Jaylen Spidell, UGA Miracle communications director, described how Parker always throws the biggest concert in the world while singing songs at Dance Marathon.
“He loves ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ and he serenaded us as we surrounded him in a circle with our phone flashlights,” Spidell said.
Grelecki explained how this connection with students goes beyond the usual 24 hours of dancing into everyday life.
“The students come to my kids’ sporting events, and we are still friends with family pals from previous years,” Grelecki said.
The theme this year, “Ignite the Light,” serves to remind participants to carry the torch from 25 years ago forward into the next 25 years, Spidell said.
Julie Mickle Wade (B.A. 1996, J.D. 2000), founding director of the first UGA Dance Marathon in 1996, reminisced on how amazed she was by the amount of work her committee members did that first year, including securing so much free food and entertainment for an unknown event.
“I will never forget getting home that night, being more tired than any other moment in my life, and realizing that this just happened,” Wade said.
She described how the impact made by UGA Miracle for Children’s has come full circle in both her and Hayes’ lives.
“This incredible event indirectly flows into the lives of the people we love the most, and it is amazing how this work started years ago impacts us today,” Wade said.
The forward impact begins immediately as next year’s Dance Marathon committee members meet this week to begin planning, Spidell said.