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Dancing Through Difficulty

Allison Schwartz shares an inspiring story about one special participant in Indiana University's Dance Marathon.

"Dancing has the power to transform my worst days into my best."
(courtesy of Microsoft Office Images)
For thousands of students on the IU campus this weekend tired feet and tear-filled eyes danced for 36 hours straight (with no breaks) at Indiana University's Dance Marathon (IUDM). Patients at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis joined students for the marathon, sharing their tragic stories and letting us into their hearts and their support systems.

Because I worked backstage at Richard III this weekend, I could only go to the Marathon during my breaks from crew, but 80% of the girls in my pledge class relentlessly danced for all 36 hours, and every time I visited them, they had a smile on their face and a positive attitude about their lead-heavy legs sending shooting pains up their bodies. If I did not have prior conflicts, I would have obviously been right there next to them, being inspired by all of the Riley stories and the students dancing on their behalf. But I do not need to go to IUDM for inspiration—because it lives in my room every day.

My roommate, and also one of my best friends, Jaymie was one of my sorority sisters spending her weekend dancing 36 hours straight at IUDM. Jaymie, however, is different than anyone else dancing in the marathon. In the summer of 2011, Jaymie and her best friend Meagan attended a Sugarland Concert in Indianapolis. Hours later, she woke up in a half-conscious state underneath the stage due to the stage collapsing. Immediately ambulanced to the hospital, Jaymie suffered severe breaks in both of her legs, a torn Achilles tendon, and a fractured skull. And the worst part… her best friend… gone. With the collapse of the stage, Jaymie's entire life shattered to pieces, and she not only had to face the physical and mental rehabilitation of basic life skills and re-learning to walk, but also the emotional tragedy of not having her best friend by her side for the journey.

The recovery process still burdens Jaymie today, and she still gets surgeries and goes to court hearings regarding the collapse. Not wanting to wear her crutches in public, her swollen legs and ankles push her through the day, always with a smile. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I give her a piggy-back ride up the stairs, but she starts the next day on her feet again. And when someone asks about the scars on her legs, she laughs it off—explaining she got in a fight with a shark.

Jaymie's inner and outer beauty radiates onto everyone in her presence, and her bubbly personality makes it impossible to not instantly fall in love with her. She accessorizes her life with a smile and finds the good in every situation and person. At first, or even second impression, you would never know all that she has been through. But that's why Jaymie is so special—she overcomes her horror story through sharing her love of life with others.

Watching Jaymie conquer 36 hours this weekend at IUDM filled me with such pride (and of course… some tears). She pushed herself for those who cannot dance, when just last year Jaymie could not stand on her own.

I cannot fathom being told one day that I could never dance again. Dancing has the power to transform my worst days into my best. I express myself through movement way more eloquently than I ever can verbally, and I realized this weekend how much I take my ability to move for granted. Just last week, I was complaining in class that I could not do the combination full out because my leg was sore. Are you kidding me, Allison? I now am so upset with myself, because a sore leg does not mean I will be in a wheelchair forever. A sore leg does not mean I cannot still do pirouettes across the floor. A sore leg does not mean I cannot ever dance again. When I feel that soreness tomorrow in dance class, I am going to take a deep breath, be thankful I have the ability to feel pain, and dance on the behalf of all of the people who will never be able to express themselves through movement again. Jaymie has shown me that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Even in the time she could not walk, Jaymie skipped through life, because she is just that kind of person.

The time is now. Embrace it. You never know what the next second could bring.

And keep on dancing!

And smile. I promise you'll feel happier.