Energy, excitement and anticipation build in the gym at Sarasota’s Riverview High School, home of the Rams. Tipoff for the night’s basketball game nears and a months-in-the-making surprise is on the horizon.
Signs dot the perimeter. They celebrate Marina, a longtime patient at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Children’s Miracle Network 2020 Champion. She was born with giant omphalocele, a condition in which the abdominal wall doesn’t close and organs covered by a thin membrane protrude out of the abdominal cavity. She had 24 surgeries before the age of 12 and is now an honor roll middle school student and happy, peppy cheerleader — a forever fighter.
Marina joins the Rams basketball captains and a few cheerleaders. Students know Marina from the Children’s Miracle Network Dance Marathons at the school, which raise money for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Foundation. They speak about raising funds, and Marina shares her story.
The crowd cheers, honoring her bravery and the work of RHS students.
Rams cheerleaders present Marina with a basket filled with her very own Riverview HS cheerleader uniform complete with a glittering head bow. She will be an honorary cheerleader for the night and perform during halftime. Her face glows.
“I had no idea. It was a complete surprise!” she exclaims. “I even got to fly in a stunt! This was one of the best nights of my life!”
RHS raises $600 at the game to contribute to its final Dance Marathon event on March 6, 2020. Altogether in 2019, the school raised $13,645 for kids like Marina.
The next morning Marina wakes up. She thinks, “Last night was epic!”