Wednesday January 9, 2008

Granting Special Wishes

Two Dayton-area children with life-threatening illnesses will meet Mickey and Goofy this week and they'll be on hand to see the 54 UD students who sent them to Florida run in the Walt Disney World Marathon.

Think of them as 54 fairy godmothers and godfathers in track shoes.

A group of University of Dayton students will run in the Walt Disney World Marathon and half marathon this weekend, cheered on by two local special wish children and their families who are visiting the park due to the students' fund-raising.

The student organization called Distance 4 Dreams, raised $7,500 to send Riley Ball, 3, of Miamisburg, and Alexander Riggins, 5, of Fairborn, for a week in Florida and a very special visit to Walt Disney World.

"We thought 'wouldn't it be great to run for a cause?'" said Anna Young, co-coordinator of Distance 4 Dreams, who helped found the student organization with UD graduate Katie Przybysz. "Then it hit us: How neat would it be to send the children and their families to Disney World at the same time we were running in the marathon?"

Distance 4 Dreams raised the funds by holding a pancake breakfast, sold bracelets and sponsoring other special events to raise the funds for children through A Special Wish Foundation.

According to Sarah Sonner Hill, fundraising coordinator for A Special Wish in Dayton, Alexander is diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He will travel with his parents, Jason Riggins and Christine Beasley, and grandparents.? Riley is diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis. She will be traveling with her parents, Mike and Tammy Ball, and meeting her grandparents down in Florida.

Hill said both will stay at Give Kids a World Village in Kissimmee, Fla., a resort for children with life-threatening illnesses. They will receive tickets to a variety of special attractions in central Florida, including Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World.? As an added special treat, the Distance for Dreams group will get to tour Give Kids a World and celebrate the wishes with the families on Saturday at an ice-cream social.

A Special Wish Foundation grants the wish of a child or adolescent, birth through age 20, who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Information on the Dayton chapter is found at www.specialwish.org.

"Meeting them just made everything real," said Young. "I think everyone realized that we really are going to make these kids' dreams come true, and that is pretty amazing."

The 54 students in Distance 4 Dreams will leave for Orlando Friday, Jan.11 in the morning. The half marathon will take place Jan. 12 and the full marathon is on Jan. 13. They will return to Dayton on Monday, Jan. 14.

For more information, contact Cilla Shindell, director of media relations, at 937-229-3257 or shindell@udayton.edu.