Damon Goga is a normal 12-year-old, his father Rich Goga said. He loves to play soccer, baseball and Xbox. However, he does all of this with one leg. Damon is a survivor of Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer that led to the amputation of his lower left leg.
Damon and his family came to the Fitness Center at Ithaca College on Dec. 7 for Ithaca College BomberTHON, the college’s first Miracle Network Dance Marathon. Miracle Network Dance Marathon is a program involving over 400 colleges, universities and schools throughout North America. Since its founding in 1991, the program has raised over $250 million for its partner hospitals, according to its website.
The college’s event raised $28,233.22 for the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse, New York, a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. The money was raised during a six–hour dance marathon and months of fundraising before the event. The donation to the hospital will be used to fund costs, including patient services, education and equipment, according to the hospital’s website.
The 190 participants in the marathon danced for six hours to 2010s pop music featuring artists like LMFAO and Hot Chelle Rae with an organized dance performed every hour by the morale captains — students who were responsible for maintaining participant enthusiasm throughout the marathon. Throughout the day, dancers collected donations through social media and payment apps like Venmo.
Toni Gary, assistant vice president for community relations and development for Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, said events like BomberTHON are important in helping the hospital accommodate children.
“We see 100,000 children a year, so every time you take a step today, think of one of those kids that will be in the hospital,” Gary said.
Rich said Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital had a great impact on his family’s life.
“All the care we got, we did everything at Golisano’s, and I don’t regret any part of it,” Rich said. “They truly gave us the best care. What you’re doing here is very nice. Upstate Golisano’s is the best cause I can think of.”
The idea for BomberTHON began in April 2018 when junior Laura Heppes, now the president of BomberTHON, learned about THON, the dance marathon at Pennsylvania State University, and she wanted to bring the program to Ithaca College. Penn State’s THON has over 16,500 students participating every year and has raised over $157 million for Four Diamonds at Penn State Children’s Hospital since 1977, according to the website.
Junior Lee Folger was also looking to start a dance marathon at Ithaca College because of his experience as a morale captain for a dance marathon when he was in high school.
“I just fell in love with it, and then I got here, and there wasn’t one, and it kind of rubbed me the wrong way,” Folger said. “When Laura brought it up, I realized that this school had too many amazing resources for us to not have one.”
Junior Madison Cardinal, BomberTHON’s director of promotions, said its original fundraising goal was $15,000, but it expected to actually raise $9,000. Junior Thomas Edson, director of hospital relations, said that when the event started, it had already surpassed its goal with approximately $24,000 raised during the preceding months by collecting donations.
Cardinal also said BomberTHON had an impact on her life she did not expect. Cardinal has personal connections to Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital because she had surgery at its Rochester location as a baby. She said that her family donates to the hospital frequently and that is what initially attracted her to BomberTHON.
“When I signed up for being director of promotions, I didn’t realize how big of an organization I was getting involved in and how much of an impact it would have on my life,” Cardinal said. “I’m just so incredibly proud that we raised over $28,000 in the first year when we were expected to only raise about $9,000. I didn’t think I was going to get emotional, and I did get emotional.”
The Miracle Network Dance Marathon program has raised $38.6 million in 2019 as of Nov. 12 with 31 colleges and universities across the country hosting dance marathons, according to an article by the Miracle Network Dance Marathon.
Edson said the executive board’s goal at the start of the event was to raise more than Cornell University’s $27,083.94 donation from its fifth annual dance marathon, Big Red Thon, which was held Nov. 9. BomberTHON achieved this goal and raised $1,149.28 more than the Big Red Thon.
“It’s so surreal,” Edson said. “This is 20 months in the making, and that number is going to stick with me forever.”
Over 25 sports teams and organizations from Ithaca College participated in fundraising, and the women’s crew team raised the most with $2,064. The team received a banner that will hang in its locker room and be passed on to next year’s top fundraising team.
Other participating teams included the men’s soccer team and the men’s baseball team. After Damon spent time talking and playing with these teams at the event, the men’s baseball team gave him an Ithaca College baseball cap to wear when he throws the first pitch at a game in the spring. The men’s soccer team presented Damon with an Ithaca College Soccer T-shirt signed by the team.
Junior Luke Bugoni said BomberTHON helped him think differently about his own life.
“A lot of times we take our everyday lives for granted,” Bugoni said. “It definitely means a lot that people recognize what’s happening and that there are people out there that struggle with everyday life. It’s just fantastic that it’s come to campus, and I think it’s only going to explode from here.”
Along with dancing, the event featured dance games and several performing groups, including IC Voicestream, IC Defy Dance Company, Premium Blend and Ithacappella.
Senior Shelby Goore said she enjoyed watching the college community come together to support a cause at this event.
“I thought it was really cool to have a family that was able to come and talk briefly about their experience going through the hospital,” Goore said. “Just seeing how everyone was so welcoming and able to help that family and wanting to help everyone else too, it’s just a nice way to combine everything together.”
Freshman Danka Hlinka was a morale captain and said she enjoyed working with this program because it helped her connect with the Ithaca community.
“You can just be silly, not afraid of who you’re trying to impress because it’s not that kind of thing,” she said. “It’s a good cause. It’s for the kids.”
After six hours of dancing, games and fundraising, a circle of approximately 100 people swayed to the sound of Ithacappella and celebrated the organization’s success. Edson said the board plans to run this event annually.
“It’s in the history books,” Edson said. “We’ve started it.”