By Claire Harlin
Tad McCardell, a UCLA freshman from Carmel Valley who also works as a Del Mar lifeguard during the summers, literally took a stand against pediatric HIV and AIDS on Feb. 16 and 17 by participating in a 26-hour dance marathon that raised more than $475,000 for various charities.
Organized by the Pediatric AIDS Coalition at UCLA, the largest student-run philanthropic organization on the West Coast, the event has taken place each February for 12 years, and in that time has donated more than $3 million toward beneficiaries such as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF); Project Kindle, a free camp for children affected by the disease; and the UCLA AIDS Institute.
McCardell, 19, was one of about 2,000 people who didn’t sit down for 26 hours straight, dancing the night — and day — away and listening to live performances as well as presentations by some 30 youth who shared their stories of being affected by HIV or AIDS.
McCardell said hearing the stories of those kids not only kept him motivated throughout the event, but it connected him more deeply to the cause. He said there was one particularly moving story that stands out in his mind — a kid whose father purposefully injected him with HIV positive blood to get out of raising him.
“He ended up living and now tours the nation talking about how to prevent HIV transmission,” said McCardell, an undeclared freshman who hopes to study psychobiology. “Everyone started crying when he spoke, and as the event went on and on, it got more and more emotional … As time went on, I felt a connection with everyone in the room, not only those affected by HIV and AIDS.”
McCardell said the first stretch of the marathon seemed like the longest.
“After about nine hours, I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe there’s 17 more left,’” he said.”I was never going to quit, but mentally, it was difficult to tell myself that I had 17 more hours to go.”
He said that every three hours the dancers underwent a costume change, putting on clothes to reflect different themes (such as neon, Bruins and favorite athlete) to keep them going and having fun. He said the dancers were provided fur meals and never stopped or sat down — not even during bathroom breaks.
“At the end my feet hurt so bad … I just collapsed,” he said, adding that the uphill hike back to his dorm room was particularly treacherous.
The Dance Marathon at UCLA is the largest collegiate charity event in California. Hundreds of supporters come to cheer on the dancers, who call on family and friends to help raise at least $250 each — and many do so in creative ways.
McCardell said one participant grew out his beard to an unruly length in order to raise money, for example. The Canyon Crest Academy graduate, however, said he opted to send out emails to help solicit funds.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” McCardell said. “It made me appreciative of what I have, and motivated me to help people and be understanding, because someone could look completely normal but they could be enduring something you couldn’t even fathom dealing with yourself.”
For more information on the event, visit www.dancemarathon.ucla.edu.