IUDM members skydive with teddy bears to support patients in Riley Hospital for Children

Post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino:

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Senior Annie Patton falls from 14,000 feet. She and over 100 other students jumped out of planes with teddy bears for patients at Riley Hospital for Children. Photo courtesy Skydive Indy.

Jumping out of a perfectly good plane was not something Indiana University senior Annie Patton needed to do. It wasn’t on her bucket list, and she’s no adrenaline junkie. If Patton was going to jump out of a plane though, it was going to be “For the Kids.”

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” she said. “I think it’s a pretty special thing.”

Patton, senior director of hospitality for IU Dance Marathon, was one of over 100 students to go skydiving over Labor Day weekend with Skydive Indy and some very brave bears. Each student did a free-fall from 14,000 feet in the air with a teddy bear strapped to his or her chest. The bears will be given to children being treated at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health so they can be brave alongside the brave children and families at Riley.

“The message is ‘this is the bravest bear in the world,’” IU Dance Marathon President Ryan Cason said.

This is the second year IUDM committee members have participated in the skydiving event, which began as a way to extend the marathon’s mission. Events like this lead up to the annual IU Dance Marathon event, when thousands of students take part in a 36-hour dance party to raise millions of dollars for Riley Hospital.

“Our mission is one day we hope we can raise enough funds and enough awareness of Riley that there will be no more sick children,” Cason said.

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IUDM participants line up with their brave teddy bears already strapped to their chest for the big jump. Courtesy Skydive Indy.

Students preparing to skydive watched a three-minute video and signed release forms before their 10-minute ride 14,000 feet in the air. On the way up, Patton and the other students were strapped into harnesses with the skydiving employees that were jumping with them.

“One by one they would just swing us out of the plane,” she said.

After about one minute of free-falling, the parachutes were opened and students were able to take in the drop. The entire experience took about two hours, Patton said. Despite some nerves, she eventually felt excited.

“You just felt very free,” she said. “It was kind of like an out-of-body experience.”

Patton said the feeling of the wind pressure was intense. But as soon as her feet hit the ground, she was already thinking about her next opportunity to go skydiving and about the boy or girl who would receive her teddy bear. Before they dove, each of the skydivers wrote a note to go with their bear saying that the bear had helped them be brave.

“I think it really clarifies the experience and gives the jump more meaning,” she said.

While a lot of people say they would never jump out of a plane, Cason said one would be surprised to find out how many of those same people would change their minds for the children at Riley.

“We want those kids to know we’re willing to jump out of planes for them,” Cason said.

Making an impact on the children and families at Riley is what IUDM is all about. The event was created by former IU student Jill Stewart Waibel in 1991 in honor of Ryan White. As the second-largest, student-run philanthropic organization in the nation, IU Dance Marathon has raised more than $24 million since its inception.

While their mission is no small task — about 1,400 volunteers on 18 committees spend the year raising money, hosting events and planning the dance marathon – IU students are willing to do anything, Cason said, to give the children at Riley a reason to smile.