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The goal: raise $500,000 for the Greater Orlando Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. The result: $688,049.19 raised, all "For The Kids."

Check-in began as early as 8 a.m. Saturday, but when the clock struck noon, the CFE Arena was filled with more than 1,000 UCF students who began their commitment to stand and dance for 20 hours at Knight-Thon, UCF's annual dance marathon and largest-run student philanthropy since 1996.

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Video: KNIGHT-THON. Video by Arnold Godoy, Central Florida Future. CORRECTION: The sorority mentioned is Alpha Epsilon Phi, not Alpha Epsilon Pi. Video by Arnold Godoy, Central Florida Future

Last year, Knight-Thon was ranked the 12th largest dance marathon in the nation; this year, it has bumped up to the seventh.

To kick off the event, the dancers raised their cups to make a toast to Arnold Palmer and all of his work with the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, including UF Health Shands Children's Hospital, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.

Miracle Children and their families were invited to stand on stage and share their stories with the participating Knights throughout the event.

"Tonight, let's go save the world," said 6-year-old Patrick, one of Knight-Thon's Miracle Children. A Miracle Child is one who has benefited from the care at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.

The Doubleday family, which includes 3-year-old Miracle Child Lauren, spoke on how thankful they are for UCF and Knight-Thon. Little Lauren twirled around her family with a big smile on her face, which sparked attention from the Knight-Thon dancers.

"We are so thankful to everybody at Knight-Thon for taking on this community and supporting Arnold Palmer and Shands in the Central Florida Children's Miracle Network because if the funds weren't raised, the tests wouldn't be there to heal kids like Lauren, and so it makes the difference as to whether we have her in our life or we don't," said Melanie Doubleday, Lauren's mother.

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Each Miracle Child is supported by several of the campus organizations who participated in Knight-Thon. One of Lauren's supporters is Alpha Epsilon Phi, and it has been caring for her since she joined Knight-Thon three years ago.

AEPhi showed its love for Lauren as it gave her Frozen-themed gifts and a stuffed giraffe, which is the sorority's mascot.

"She seemed to love it. She just wanted to play with everything," said Kathy Benson, sophomore hospitality and event management major and AEPhi philanthropy vice president. "It just made me happy that she was excited for us to be there and excited for us to give her a gift."

Miracle Children graced the stage one-by-one with support from the Knight-Thon crowd.

Justice, who had suffered from a heart condition, took the stage in her princess costume; and 3-year-old Grace, who received a kidney from a 17-year-old boy to save her life, stood by her teary-eyed mother once on stage.

Eleven-year-old Maleah, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at 3 years old, stood strong as she told her story on stage, just as she has for four years at Knight-Thon.

"Thank you, and let's go Knights," said Maleah as she exited the stage.

Jennifer Sawicki, LEAD Scholars Knight-Thon team captain and sophomore industrial engineering major, said hearing the kids' stories adds to the experience of the event.

"It's very emotional. It really adds to the experience to see how much it's touched them," Sawicki said.

Every time one of the Miracle Children said thank you, she said the "water works" would begin.

Participating students were motivated by the Knight-Thon Morale Team, which is made up of approximately 40 students from different school organizations. Every hour, the Morale Team taught everyone a new dance, step-by-step. Its task is to pump up the crowd and keep the Knights dancing all day and night.

"Knowing that what we worked so hard on all year is coming together is worthwhile," said Jessica Shevlin, Morale Team member and junior political science major.

Knights rocked fanny packs and neon clothing as they added different costume pieces for the different dance theme hours, such as beach, rave and holiday attire.

Appearances were made by unique characters, such as a person in a panda costume, a Star Wars stormtrooper, Knightro, Santa and more.

"This was an amazing experience that I regret not doing last year," Sawicki said.

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Paige Wilson is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @paigeshortstackor email her at PaigeW@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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