Knight-Thon is a 20-hour dance marathon hosted by OSI that aims to fundraise for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in Orlando. Knight-Thon 2016 was held in the CFE arena from April 2 to April 3. Harry Sayer, Central Florida Future
April 2 was a dreary day on the UCF campus. The wind, rain, and unseasonably cool temperatures made for a miserable Saturday.
That is, except for the students, children and families inside the CFE Arena.
The 10,000-seat venue on UCF’s campus hosted the 20th annual Knight-Thon on April 2 to April 3. The event, hosted by a group of student volunteers, is a 20-hour dance marathon intended to raise money for the children and families of the Children’s Miracle Network.
Knight-Thon set a new record this year by raising $1,001,678.20. By exceeding their goal of $820,000 and breaking $1 million for the first time, UCF has become only the eighth institution in the United States to raise such an amount.
Around 1,500 students attended, which is also a new record for Knight-Thon.
“I look forward to this event all year,” Jenna Rogers, a patient at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, said. “It’s a fun event, just to see all of these college kids raising money and taking time out of their weekends to come see the kids.”
Rogers, 16, lives in Sanford with her family. Despite her struggles with a rare form of juvenile arthritis and an immunodeficiency disorder, Rogers manages to stay active and outgoing.
“I’m a first-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and I do archery,” Rogers said.
Jenna’s father, Bruce, described the event as “awe-striking.”
“She probably wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for Children’s Miracle Network, and they continue to support us through her ailments,” Bruce Rogers said. “I think what the kids here at UCF do is fantastic, so we come out here to support them.”
Students who want to participate must raise $200 to be admitted to the event. Additionally, participants must stand—or dance—for the full 20 hours. Some students have an easier time than others keeping their morale.
“My feet hurt, but I’m not tired,” Bayley Studley, a senior biomedical science major from Coral Springs, said. “I’m pre-med. I’m used to this.”
At 12:30 a.m., about eight hours into the 20-hour dance marathon, Stephanie Mendelsohn, a freshman psychology major from Boca Raton, explained her strategy for staying awake and energetic.
“The yoga [class] I took really helped,” Mendelsohn said. “Plus, I just ate a chocolate bar.”
Throughout the evening, children whose ailments are treated by Children’s Miracle Network hospitals came up on stage with their families and shared their “miracle stories.”
During these presentations, which often grew graphic and emotional, Knight-Thon participants were expected to kneel on the dance floor in commemoration of each family’s pain and perseverance.
As Knight-Thon started to run into the morning hours of April 3, the after-effects of more than half a day of dancing became apparent. Dancers became sweaty and smelly, and some who had been dancing enthusiastically found it difficult to continue.
“I’m ready to be done,” Mendelsohn said at 10 a.m.
During the event’s final hours, some of Knight-Thon’s student organizers took the stage to present awards to individuals and groups that participated. Fraternities, sororities, campus offices and departments, and registered student organizations were all recognized for their contributions to the spirit and fundraising of Knight-Thon.
Once all the awards were presented and all the speeches were over, the Knight-Thon executive board announced the fundraising total for the event. When the total was announced, deafening cheers erupted from the students in attendance.
Elizabeth Harger, 35, explained that she feels the UCF students who come to Knight-Thon take the event’s tagline of “for the kids” seriously.
“This is our fifth year,” Harger, who lives in Winter Springs with her daughter, Hannah, said. “We do it because they make it about the kids. There are other fundraisers that we’ve participated in that are very adult-oriented [that] bring the kids out just kind of as trophies.”
Hannah, Harger’s 9-year-old daughter and a cancer survivor, said she was excited to sing in the talent show that happened a few hours into the event.
Her song choice? “Animals” by Maroon 5.
“Not only does [Knight-Thon] raise money for Children’s Miracle Network, [but] I think it educates more than any of the other fundraisers,” Elizabeth Harger said. “All of these [UCF students] leave here knowing how Children’s Miracle Network actually impacts all of the kids that are affected.”
Story originally published April 3, 2016.
Alex Storer is a senior staff writer for the Central Florida Future.