Alexandra Fiedler: Miami Service 2022

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

STUDENT BIO

Alexandra Fiedler is a second-year student at Florida International University, seeking her BA in Psychology with a minor in Spanish. Alexandra enjoys the multitude of unique and captivating things Miami has to offer as both a city and a classroom to expand her knowledge and discover new enchanting things about this place she now calls home.

WHO

Roarthon is a student-run organization that raises funds for Nicklaus Children’s Hospital through the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH). The Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is a non-profit organization that raises money for 170 different children’s hospitals all around the country, mainly one dollar at a time to help one child at a time (Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals). Nicklaus Children’s Hospital has over 40 pediatric specialties with over 800 physicians on staff, and performs comprehensive care for infants, children, and young adults (Nicklaus Children). The FIU Roarthon committee is an incredibly dedicated group of students that work for months in preparation for the actual dance marathon. Starting in the fall semester, they begin a year-long fundraising campaign that continues up until the culmination of it all in April. Roarthon is FIU’s way of giving back and helping CMNH with their impactful cause, through a challenging and fun dance marathon that lasts 17 hours each year. Since its inception 25 years ago, Roarthon has raised over 1.5 million dollars for the kids (FIU-Roarthon 2022). 

WHY

I did not understand the true impact that Roarthon has until the actual day of the marathon. As much as I would love to say that I was incredibly engaged and involved during the months leading up to the event, I didn’t quite grasp what I had gotten myself into. But as the day got closer and I listened to my roommate (a committee member/morale captain) talk about the children with cancer, their ‘miracle’ families, how exciting and exhausting the preparation had become, I started to get both more anxious and thrilled. One of the event’s main sayings is “We stand for those who can’t”  which was a really powerful way of keeping our dance marathon in perspective. We weren’t there just to challenge ourselves and have fun. We were there to really make a difference; through our dedication to this cause, we were able to raise crucial funds for children battling cancer and other equally frightening diseases. Roarthon did not necessarily align with my major or any of my particular passions, except for the fact that it reminded me of the service work that I used to do, and really missed being involved in. Before coming to college and before the COVID-19 pandemic started in March of 2020, I was heavily involved in community service, through my school, my church, and my family. So having the opportunity to do something that would benefit others was really meaningful to me. I have been slow to get back into service, which is my fault, but Roarthon just made me that much more driven to be able to start giving back once again. Hearing the families’ testimonials throughout the marathon about how much the money was helping their children go through these unimaginably difficult treatments for months on end really made it hit home for me why we needed to continue doing what we were doing. I really could not think of a better service opportunity for me to complete this semester–I had a great time doing great things for a great cause. 

HOW

My roommate, one of my closest friends, was a morale captain for Roarthon and convinced me to sign up back in August of 2021. At the time, I did not realize how intensive the commitment that I was making would be. She told me I should sign up for this funky event she was working and that if I joined, I would get a fanny pack. At the time, it seemed like a good idea and a cute fanny pack, so I decided to be a dancer for Roarthon. Since I signed up many months before the event, I did not give it much thought until much closer to the marathon and I realized that I had made a very large commitment that I needed to prepare for. As we got closer to the event, I began seeing more things about it all over social media and realized that it was actually a very large production that many people had been preparing for for a considerable amount of time. 

WHERE & WHAT

After packing my duffel bag with approximately a week’s worth of clothing, I walked over to the FIU gym where I knew I would be staying until the next day. I checked in at 4:30 p.m. on April 9th and attempted to mentally prepare myself for the next 17 hours. 17 hours. That’s how long I would be in the gym with no sitting, laying down, sleeping, showering, or just resting. As I made my way from the locker room to the gym, I realized that I did not know any other dancers for the marathon–just committee members that would undoubtedly be busy running the event. Being a relatively anxious person, I started to contemplate who I would even spend my time with over the course of the night. Opening the gym doors, I immediately forgot about my previous preoccupations as I took in the scene in front of me. Tape ran along the floor creating a winding path from the back entrance to the main stage with the words “Miracle Path” inscribed through the path. In the far corner, a Nintendo Switch station was set up and a group of people were already playing Mario Kart. In the opposite corner, the organizers had card and board games filling the top of a table, on the ground next to it was a life size Jenga game. Past that, they had inflatable basketball hoops and holes for football throwing. Along the back wall by the door, tables were set up with coloring books and other arts and crafts. And all throughout the center of the gym, space was left open for people to play games such as four square, volleyball, soccer, football, or even just a game of catch. And of course, the room was filled with music–it wouldn’t really be a dance marathon without it. People already in the gym were laughing, talking, playing games, and meeting new people. It genuinely felt like I had been transported back to elementary school with all the childhood games and animated energy in the room. I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into, but I finally felt more excited than nervous about the entire event.

Photograph by Georgia Rosen//CC by 4.0

Shortly after 5 p.m., the opening ceremony began. The overall director introduced herself to all the dancers, the Interim President spoke to us, then they had us all line the Miracle Path to welcome in the Miracle families–families that were actually benefiting from the money we were raising for their children’s cancer treatments at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. It was both sweet and sad to see such young kids coming into the gym and making their way to the stage through all our cheers and applause. They each had a chance to introduce themselves to us before one of the Miracle parents took some time to speak to us about how meaningful this charity event has always been for him. His young daughter had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and they trusted Nicklaus Children’s Hospital for their intensive treatment. The hospital is especially necessary as they help families that cannot afford the treatment all on their own. He thanked us for our dedication to this cause, which honestly didn’t feel quite right, because it seemed like he was the only one deserving thanks for his dedication to his family and their health. We were just a group of college students who hadn’t even begun the main event yet. After hearing from the Miracle families, committee members explained how we would continue fundraising throughout the night. Before even walking into the gym, I had fundraised $125 through the support of my friends and family, but as the marathon continued, we would be able to raise more money in order to sit down, take a shower, or take a nap. With that, the marathon officially began. I started meeting new people, learning why others had joined Roarthon, and playing games. The morale captains taught all the dancers a line dance they had been creating over the past several months. The first few hours went by easily, as the adrenaline and excitement of it all made me forget how apprehensive and tired I was before walking into the gym at 4:30. 

Photograph by Letizia D’Avenia//CC by 4.0

8:30 p.m. eventually rolled around, providing us with our first opportunity to sit down while we ate (a pleasant surprise for me, who thought we had to stand even while we were eating). Dinner was more time to continue getting to know the other dancers and socialize with lots of new people. After eating, we went back to the locker rooms to make our first outfit changes in preparation for the rest of our night.

Another really entertaining and unique part of Roarthon is that there were theme hours throughout the night where dancers could dress up. The themes for this year started from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. with Back to the Future, then Rave/Lights Out, Camouflage, 305 Hour, Pajama Party, Superheroes, and finally Color Wars from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The theme changes helped keep us engaged throughout the night. Truthfully, as the night went on my memories of it all began to blend together, as the excitement wore off and the exhaustion set in. The Rave hour was a two-hour glow in the dark party that winded down at 1 a.m. After jumping around and screaming along to songs with my new friends, I realized that I was a little tired and I still had ten hours to go. One of the greatest sayings from the weekend became “For the Kids!” as we had to keep reminding ourselves what we were doing this for. We were sweaty, our feet hurt, our legs were starting to ache, but we knew that this night had a purpose, and that was why we had to keep pushing through. Certainly nothing we were experiencing could even come close to the pains associated with cancer treatment. Above all else, Roarthon was putting my perception of life and difficulties into perspective. 

I ended up raising $301 by the end of the night, as family members donated throughout the night to give me chances to sit down and even go get a nap. As it turned out, I was wide awake from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. when I should have been sleeping and instead watched the Pitbull lip sync battle that was happening at the time. To me, the new connections I was building were far more valuable than a nap when I really took time to think about it. I did go lay down for about 25 minutes at one point, but I think my body was more confused than anything, and I could not actually fall asleep. There was something about being surrounded by everyone else’s energy that helped me stay awake and motivated. It wasn’t as easy to feel tired when you’re singing with all your friends, playing volleyball, learning new dances, watching others do karaoke, and learning to throw a football with perfect spin. 

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

8 a.m. That is the time where I really hit the wall. At 8 a.m., nothing was funny anymore. The music was too loud. My feet hurt. My back hurt. My legs definitely hurt. Breakfast was not good. These statements are all pretty representative of my internal dialogue around this time. It took a lot of willpower to not be grouchy with all my fellow dancers around me. After all, they were going through the exact same thing that I was. But by 8 a.m., I had been up and spending all sorts of energy for 15 consecutive hours just at the marathon. It was definitely hard to motivate myself to keep pushing through the last few hours.

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

Throughout the morning of April 10th, we were able to meet a few new people that helped truly bring the entirety of the dance marathon into perspective. We listened to one woman who shared with us how she battled stage 4 brain cancer while being an undergraduate student at FIU. She shared how Nicklaus Children’s Hospital provided her with so much more than treatment–they gave her support, love, and true compassion when she needed it the most. A mother spoke to us about her son’s aggressive form of bone cancer and how crushing it is to watch something like cancer tear through your very own child. She even shared how devastated her son was after arm surgery that prevented him from playing his favorite sport, baseball. The mother then shared with us that the hospital was able to treat her son with the absolute best type of care with the highest quality of doctors and staff in order to make sure he would make a recovery that other hospitals told her would never be possible. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear as I got goosebumps while listening to their powerful messages. They were why we were doing what we were doing. They were the reason we did not sit down. They were the reason we were challenging ourselves to do something so intense. They were the reason we needed to work so hard to make sure we raised as much money as absolutely possible. They were the ones we stood for when they could not. After their impactful testimonials, the dancers were then able to actually go outside to see a LifeFlight ambulance, one of the iconic blue ambulances with teddy bears on the sides from Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. We had the chance to meet the EMTs working inside and even went inside the ambulance. It was chilling to see Moana playing on a tiny screen–a harsh reminder that these intensive care units on wheels were made for helping children.

After what seemed like years but was only 17 hours, it was time for Roarthon’s closing ceremony. We all got a chance to perform the dance we had been attempting to learn throughout the course of the night. I honestly think my partner and I did pretty good in the end, even though I’m certainly not a skilled dancer. After the awards were given to those who raised the most money, and the committee members were recognized for their intense work over the past several months, it was finally time to learn how much money we raised in the end. After much anticipation, hard work, standing, and dancing of course, Roarthon raised… $59,190.10!!! Almost sixty thousand dollars! I was blown away when I saw the total. I never dreamed the group of exhausted (and probably stinky) college kids surrounding me would be capable of raising money like that. Because although it might’ve been hard to see how dancing made a difference, it’s not hard at all to see how 59k will help a cause as invaluable as a children’s hospital.

Photograph by Molly Schantz//CC by 4.0

Hobbling out of the gym at 11:30 was bittersweet. The elation I anticipated feeling was nowhere to be found as I struggled to make the trek back to my dorm. My mind was flooding with memories I was attempting to process although my mind was rapidly losing its fight to exhaustion. I just remember feeling proud of myself for making it through the night and getting prepared to finally welcome the sleep I had been fighting off for far too many hours at that point. 

Photograph by Georgia Rosen//CC by 4.0

WHEN

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

SUMMARY

Looking back at the event as a whole, Roarthon left me completely conflicted. Between barely being able to walk back to my dorm and seeing the total amount of money we raised, I was almost too tired to comprehend what I just went through the day before. After the initial numbness, first shower, and divine nap, I finally took time to evaluate my experience. 

I truly love Roarthon and everything it works so hard to accomplish. It is beyond touching to see college students advocate for something as noble as a cause as Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Watching the morale captains lead events, games, dances throughout the night, it was just so evident that they had poured their hearts into the marathon. The people I met throughout the experience are people I can now genuinely call friends. We went from total strangers to sharing an actual connection by the time 11 a.m. rolled around because we had been through something so uniquely challenging and rewarding together. I don’t think people can understand the range of emotions one goes through during an event like Roarthon unless they go through it themselves. Meeting alumni in the morning who had previously been part of Roarthon was so inspiring, and made me even more dedicated to continue being a part of this amazing organization. I can confidently say that being a dancer this year was only the beginning of my journey with Roarthon because I know in my heart that I just have to go back and do it all again. The discomfort and aching I went through was temporary, something I am reminded of now as I write this and the parts that I remember most are the positives instead of just how I was sleepy. 

It fascinates me how I can’t even consider the worst part of Roarthon as a negative. Truthfully, I am a person that loves to sleep–I require a lot of it and don’t function well without it. Before walking into Roarthon, I had just completed a 6-hour shift running around a restaurant and was genuinely worried about having some medical emergency due to pure exhaustion. As 7 a.m. came around on Sunday morning, it was almost bewildering to acknowledge that I had been awake for 24 hours, and that rest was not coming anytime soon. Yet I resolved to remember that my sore feet, stinging legs, tired eyes, greasy hair, and aching back were nothing compared to the struggles faced daily by those for whom we were raising money. The afternoon before I watched a 6-year-old girl proudly introduce herself to a gym full of strangers as she battled leukemia and I had the audacity to complain? It was very sobering to realize that I was blessed to have aching legs because it meant that I could stand. I was grateful to donate 20 extra dollars to lay down because it meant I had enough energy to expend in the first place to get tired. I was thankful for the effort it took to form an exhausted smile because it meant I was safe enough and healthy enough to make the friends that had me smiling in the first place. All the exhaustion and pain were blessings, they were testimonials to my health, which is something I take for granted. My struggles which feel monumental to me in the moment genuinely pale in comparison to those experiencing cancer and other equally dangerous and complex diseases. I even get emotional now reminiscing over my experience and recalling the gravity of it all. I’m so thankful to all the people I met, the friends I made, the money we raised, and the experience that Roarthon gave me. 

It feels so selfish to be so thankful because it’s almost as if I got more out of the experience than I gave. But I try to view it as a situation that I got so much out of because I gave so much. Although it might not have been the most traditional hands-on service experience I have ever completed, Roarthon was so special to me in its unique way. I’ve never attempted an event similar to this, and I am immensely appreciative of everyone who supported me and challenged me to give back to my community in a wild yet oddly enjoyable way. I never imagined I would have done something like Roarthon and my roommate pushing me to just try something new is something I am eternally grateful for. It’s simply not possible to say anything to ‘Roarthon’ because it’s an event and not a living entity, but if I could finish with anything it would simply be to say: “Roarthon: for all that you have given me, thank you.”

CITATIONS

https://www.nicklauschildrens.org/medical-services

https://give.nicklauschildrens.org/ways-to-give/corporate-giving/childrens-miracle-network-hospital

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