Colin Northrup couldn’t stop smiling.

“With what U of M did, I have been able to fly in an airplane and climb a tree,” he said.

Colin, an eighth-grader at Mill Creek Middle School in nearby Dexter, is confined to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. Sitting in his room adorned with University of Michigan memorabilia, wheelchair hockey league trophies and a massive electronic train set, Colin gushed about how, for the past eight years, he’s benefited from the University’s Dance Marathon, a campus-wide event that donates money for pediatric rehabilitation.

Dance marathon “dancers” pledge to raise at least $300 in exchange for standing in the track and field building for 30 consecutive hours. Last year, the event raised more than $350,000 and for this year’s marathon – to be held tomorrow and Sunday – organizers are hoping to raise even more.

Through Dance Marathon’s funding, Colin is able to attend summer camp, play adapted soccer and do “recreational therapy” – non-traditional activities like martial arts that help exercise muscles and improve coordination.

But Colin has been busy with more than just fun and games.

Students became excited two years ago when LSA senior Steve Crompton, the external director of the University’s Dance Marathon, gave a presentation to the school’s Community Service and Learning class. Val Berryman, who teaches the class, said the students in one of the class’s committees were eager to launch the school’s first marathon.

Crompton couldn’t be happier, saying that Colin has gone through “the full cycle.” At first, he was a recipient of the therapy funded by Dance Marathon. Now he’s helping to provide it for others.

“We’ve empowered him to take on the responsibility of continuing the mission of the Dance Marathon,” he said. “His life has been so changed by it that he’s now inspired to change other kids’ lives, too.”

Mill Creek held its Dance Marathon last week. It was the school’s third and biggest yet.

Colin has been involved in the committee of eight students for each of the last two years, adjusting to his leadership role along the way.

“They were all working together, but Colin was definitely very spirited about the event,” Berryman said. “He feels a sense of ownership.”

The committee brainstormed the theme, food and logistics of the event, which lasted three hours and included snacks, prizes, a DJ and a frozen lemonade machine.

Mill Creek students raised a minimum of $25 each by reaching out to their families and friends. Colin surpassed that amount with ease, becoming the school’s highest fundraiser with $380.

“Nobody got donations like Colin,” Berryman said. “He said, ‘I just don’t take no for an answer.’ “

Colin said his committee never thought it would run out of the 150 T-shirts it ordered. But more than 175 kids showed up, raising a total of $7,245.

“I was like totally shocked – I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I could have cried, but I didn’t.”

Dawn Northrup, Colin’s mom, said Colin’s involvement organizing the event was almost as beneficial to him as the University’s Dance Marathon was.

“It’s just as important for him to learn how to help other people and give back to others,” she said. “It’s kind of come full circle.”

She added that Colin’s experiences with the University’s Dance Marathon helped boost his morale and confidence.

“I think it changed the way his peers saw him, and as a result it changed the way he saw himself,” she said.

A soon-to-be freshman at Dexter High School, Colin said he has no interest in leaving Dance Marathon behind him. He said he’s excited about the possibility to “drum one up or cook one up somehow.”

“I think within a couple years there might be enough support to put on one like I’ve done,” he said.

Berryman said Colin has developed a sense of leadership.

“People think when they see a kid in a wheelchair that he’s disabled,” she said. “Colin’s anything but disabled. He’s one of the most able kids in that class to be a leader.”

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