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Students transform BobcaThon fundraiser from dance to 12K marathon

Published: March 11, 2021 Author: Jordan Schmitt

When Dr. David Nguyen’s first son, Ernie, was born he had to be transported to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. After calling hotels in search of a nearby place to stay, Nguyen was referred to the Ronald McDonald House across the street from the hospital. 

Staying at the Ronald McDonald House, Nguyen’s family did not have to worry about finding a bed, shower or meals. All was provided for them at no cost. They stayed for around seven to 10 days and have returned on occasion while Ernie has received further medical care.

“My involvement with BobcaThon is purely personal,” Nguyen said. “For me and my family at that time, the Ronald McDonald House was there.” 

Nguyen, an assistant professor in the counseling and higher education department of the Patton College of Education, is now the faculty adviser for Ohio University’s BobcaThon. 

Founded in 2014, BobcaThon is an annual volunteer event in which participants pledge to dance for 12 consecutive hours to fundraise for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio in Columbus.

The two co-directors of BobcaThon, seniors Jackie Rothney and Rhianna Lucas, are passionate about the cause that the organization stands for. They have both been participating in the event every year of their college careers. 

“I am in nursing school, and these kids and families will be the direct people that I will be taking care of when I graduate. My heart breaks that these families are given the cards they have, and being in their corner is one of the easiest things I could do. The Ronald McDonald House allows families to stay close, gives a home-cooked meal and a community that understands them. I want to do all I can to be able to allow the RMH to support families while their child is in and out of the hospital,” Rothney said. 

Eliza Zulch, the current president of the BobcaThon organization, is also drawn to supporting the organization’s mission.

“For me, it’s always just been about the families, and providing for the families who are in a really tough situation and just helping them out a little more,” Zulch said. 

The 12-hour dance marathon hosted by Ohio University’s BobcaThon looks quite different this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to social distancing mandates, the event’s leadership team had to brainstorm a new way for members to participate in the event. 

“We have just had to adapt and keep our vision on raising money for the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio in any way we could,” Rothney said. 

Because a dance marathon is not feasible for current times, BobcaThon members have planned a 12K (7.5 miles) that members can complete on their own. The 12K marathon, which will be held on March 20 and 21, can be walked, biked, ran or swam. 

“Through it all, Jackie and I and our leadership team kept a positive attitude and dedicated our time to creating the best (COVID-friendly) event possible. We decided to do a 12K because, like Jackie mentioned, we are hoping to show our participants what the kids at the Ronald McDonald House are feeling every day while they fight their fight,” Lucas said. 

A unique aspect of the event will be the BobcaThon 2021 podcast. The podcast will feature encouraging songs and families’ stories from the Ronald McDonald House to help motivate students as they complete the 12K.

Zulch plans to complete the marathon with her fellow BobcaThon roommates. 

“It’s a really good way to get people to get out and exercise,” Zulch said. “I plan on hanging out with my roommates, who are also in BobcaThon, heading down to the bike path, walking it and just appreciating Athens. For me, since it’s my last BobcaThon, I plan to really just take in Athens and soak in all that it has given us this past year.” 

On March 21, the group will gather virtually at 4 p.m. and will reveal the total amount raised via a live stream on YouTube. One hundred percent of the funds raised by BobcaThon are donated to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. 

The organization is still working hard to raise funds for the cause it supports. Members must gain up to a minimum of $137 raised individually to symbolize the 137 rooms in the Ronald McDonald House to house families while their child is getting treatment. Participants fundraise via social media, sending fundraising letters, contacting businesses and other strategies. 

Students use the Just Giving platform to track and rank how much they have fundraised. Different campus organizations can also create their own teams to raise money under. BobcaThon has a leadership team and a morale team to organize participants. 

In addition, BobcaThon volunteers have continued to travel to the Ronald McDonald House and prepare meals for families staying in the house.

Local Athens businesses help sponsor the event. The organization has partnered with Fry’d, Texas Roadhouse and Chipotle to host fundraisers that contribute to their overall fundraising. Fry’d has also donated multiple gift cards to the cause for giveaways. Other local business that have donated prizes to the BobcaThon team include Big Mamma’s, UniversiTees, Columbus Running Co. and Whit’s. 

For information about the BobcaThon and how you can help, visit: https://www.bobcathon.org