By TAYLOR AMOS
Each dance marathon has its own unique title and slogan but all are united at the core. “We dance for those who can’t.”
In 2011, college alumnae realized they were not ready to hang up their dancing shoes; planning for Atlanta’s first citywide marathon was in motion. They hosted the first Atlanta Dance Marathon in March of 2012, and will repeat the event this year on March 2 at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta. The event will begin at 8:45 a.m. and last until 10 p.m.
Participants stand and dance for 12-40 hours to honor kids like Parker Grelecki. Parker’s
journey began before birth. Parents Ryan and Crysie Grelecki were told their son would be born with craniostenosis and hydrocephalus, a skull deformity that causes excess fluid on the brain.
Baby Parker was scheduled for surgery at two days old, and by the time he was 20 months old, Parker had undergone seven successful surgeries at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and was on his way to recovery. Now, the nonstop 7-year-old and his family are dance marathon veterans and attend many marathons throughout the Southeast each year.
Atlanta Dance Marathon Executive Director Daniella Jackson learned just how remarkable
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is while attending the University of Georgia. She participated in UGA Miracle all four years of college, and she knew early on she wanted to do more than just dance. She joined the recruitment committee junior year and the family relations committee senior year.
Like many others, Jackson refused to leave her dancing days behind after graduation. She
joined the founding team of Atlanta Dance Marathon and served as family relations chair on the executive committee. She quickly realized a citywide dance marathon was going to be completely different from what she was used to.
“In college, you pretty much have a skeleton of the event,” Jackson said. “Just plug in the
families, switch up foods, and get people. Your venue is the same every year; even the same food places are used to making donations for corporate sponsorship. But with us, we had to start from scratch.”
Jackson and fellow committee members struggled with finding miracle families, a venue and participants.
However challenging the planning, they persevered. Through donations made by dancers and supporters, Atlanta Dance Marathon successfully raised $32,172.97 for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
For more than 185 years, Children’s has operated under one mission: “To make kids better
today and healthier tomorrow.” It is this deep-rooted history that initially attracted Terilyn Walton to a career with the organization. Like her co-committee member, Walton began volunteering for dance marathon 12 years ago as a freshman at the University of Georgia.
After her first marathon, she proceeded to be an active committee member and then an executive committee member all four years of her undergrad.
“I loved the event and what it stood for so much that it inspired my career working at
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation,” Walton said.
She has been working for the CHOA Foundation for almost eight years and has made more
meaningful memories in her career than most. She currently works on the Foundation Operations team as an Event and Email Operations Analyst.
Walton recalls an interaction with a 5-year-old cancer patient. She was sent out to find a patient whose parents would be OK with him or her having a picture taken with a group of donors. She knew Brayden was going to be the perfect candidate as soon as she met him, so his mom loaded him into his wheelchair and the trio headed for the donor group waiting in the lobby.
Brayden realized he was missing his “steering wheel” (a DVD he uses to “drive” his wheelchair) en route, so his mom turned back to retrieve it. Walton continued wheeling the spirited child down the hall while he strummed his toy guitar and sang, “Life
Is a Highway” at the top of his lungs.
Brayden chatted with the visitors and performed for them through the entire photo
“It made the donors’ day and definitely mine,” Walton said. “These kids have an uncontainable spirit that is truly remarkable.”
Lasting memories and relationships are formed in a place full of challenges, and the
patients at every hospital refuse to let their illnesses interfere with what is unique to them – being a kid.
“I hope participants will walk away feeling like they’ve helped make a difference in a
child’s life,” Jackson said. “I want our dancers to walk away with a fire burning inside them like it burns inside of me.”
This is the flame of almost every dance marathoner – one that is impossible to extinguish.