Almost 12 years ago, twins Miles and Evan Peguese were born three months early, weighing only 1 lb 12 oz and 1 lb 9 oz, respectively. Their mother, Andrea Peguese, was told that if her children were to survive they would face a pretty difficult life ahead.
Andrea said she “never lost faith and just knew that they were going to make it.” And that is what they did: her “miracle babies” survived. In the summer of 2003, her five-year-old twins were selected as Michigan ambassadors to represent the state for the Children’s Miracle Network, an organization that raises money for children’s hospitals.
But Peguese said that her kids, who were diagnosed with cerebral palsy, would have never gotten this opportunity without the help of the University of Michigan Dance Marathon organization.
“It’s really because of the Dance Marathon that we really got introduced to the Children’s Miracle Network and we’ve been a spokesperson for CMN,” Peguese said.
The University of Michigan Dance Marathon is one of the largest non-profit, student-run organizations in Michigan. It raises awareness and funds for children in need of pediatric care and assistance.
This weekend, hundreds of students will stand on their feet for 30 hours to raise money for families like the Pegueses. The annual marathon starts at 10 a.m. Saturday and will go until 4 p.m. Sunday.
The Peguese family has been a fixture at the marathon for seven years, but Andrea will never forget the first time she attended.
“I lead with my heart, and something in me just said do it, it sounds like it’d be fun,” she said. “I didn’t expect the emotion that the students were going through. It’s huge that they were impacted so deeply, their passion just really burned through. And to stand on your feet for 30 hours you have to have a lot of passion.”
Hilary Powsner, UMDM’s media relations coordinator, said the dance marathon is a “tribute” to the children they help.
“We are standing for those who cannot stand,” she said. “The outpouring of support that our organization both gives and receives is, at least for me, the biggest reason why I stay involved.”
Peguese said that she not only appreciates the students’ passion, but also their ability to show her children a good time during the marathon.
“I have found that the adults are the ones that have problems dealing with people with disabilities,” she said. “And this (UMDM) was an opportunity that allowed us to interact with a great number of people at one time. And they never questioned what is their disability or what’s wrong with them. It was just accepted and that breaks down the barriers.”
Powsner said that interacting with the families is part of what makes the marathon such a meaningful experience.
“When you have a 10-year-old kid who is just so excited to be a part of this event, it is impossible to put into words how right it feels,” she said.
The Ham-Kucharskis are another family that students will have a chance to interact with at Dance Marathon. Dawn and her husband Richard have one child, a 10-year-old son named Alex.
Alex suffered a stroke at birth and has autism and cerebral palsy. He has been involved with UMDM for the past eight years and Dawn said the organization has given him the opportunity to become more comfortable interacting with others.
“Thanks to the social and recreational opportunities offered to Alex in his eight years of love and acceptance with UMDM, he now goes everywhere happily, and loves malls, restaurants, parties,” she said. “His old behaviors are practically non-existent.”
Dawn added that every time they go to the marathon, it causes “tears and laughter.” She said she has a lot of appreciation for the students who participate.
“I can’t even put into words how much I love and admire these students,” she said. “When I was a student, I never thought I could give so much. I see that they see school as a place where they can not only get a degree but also make an impact.”
Peguese said she is excited for the weekend because it provides her family with a short escape from reality.
“It’s a relief. It’s a safe weekend. It’s a safe interaction for all the children and all the families,” she said.