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Still singing in the spotlight

The+crowd+sways+with+DJs+during+the+fifth+hour+of+the+22nd+Dance+Marathon+in+the+Iowa+Union+Memorial+on+Saturday%2C+Feb.+6%2C+2016.+Dance+Marathon+dancers+can%27t+sleep+through+the+whole+24+hours+of+the+marathon.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FCourtney+Hawkins%29
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Still singing in the spotlight

The crowd sways with DJs during the fifth hour of the 22nd Dance Marathon in the Iowa Union Memorial on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. Dance Marathon dancers can't sleep through the whole 24 hours of the marathon. (The Daily Iowan/Courtney Hawkins)

The crowd sways with DJs during the fifth hour of the 22nd Dance Marathon in the Iowa Union Memorial on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. Dance Marathon dancers can't sleep through the whole 24 hours of the marathon. (The Daily Iowan/Courtney Hawkins)

The crowd sways with DJs during the fifth hour of the 22nd Dance Marathon in the Iowa Union Memorial on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. Dance Marathon dancers can't sleep through the whole 24 hours of the marathon. (The Daily Iowan/Courtney Hawkins)

The crowd sways with DJs during the fifth hour of the 22nd Dance Marathon in the Iowa Union Memorial on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. Dance Marathon dancers can't sleep through the whole 24 hours of the marathon. (The Daily Iowan/Courtney Hawkins)

Marissa Payne, [email protected]

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Gripping a microphone — either real or pretend, whichever he could get his hands on — Jason Eckrich was eager to take the stage and captivate his audience with a rock-star persona.

Although Jason kept life with the Eckrich family entertaining, at times, the shows were put on hold. Jason was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2008, and after a few rounds of chemotherapy and relapses, he passed away in March 2010 at age 5.

To those who knew him, Jason — whom Dance Marathon alumna Sara Stewart described as a “fireball” — was more than a boy who battled leukemia. Jason’s personality shone brightly, as did the spotlight he loved to sing under.

Jason and his family have maintained a special place in Stewart’s heart as her first Dance Marathon family. She said despite his illness, Jason — a fan of famed musicians Pink! and Miley Cyrus — loved being the center of attention.

“One time when I was with him … he made me turn around and not watch, and then he would strut down the stage and hold … a pretend microphone and would just dance and sing song after song after song and loved putting on a show and being in the spotlight,” Stewart said.

Jacki Eckrich, Jason’s mother, said the source of Jason’s penchant for performing music isn’t his immediate family, and she credited his musicality to her niece, who plays the guitar.

Music remained part of Jason’s life during his recovery process at the hospital with the music-therapy group, which Eckrich said brought her son out of his shell, singing karaoke in the kid’s room at the hospital and singing at a charity event in front of approximately 100 people.

“He got up on stage and sang some Miley Cyrus tunes for everybody,” she said. “He got up on the big stage with — he called them his girlfriends — his girls from Dance Marathon.”

Aside from the music, Eckrich said Dance Marathon largely contributed to making the hospital feel like a second home. She said because of Dance Marathon, she learned how to be a better mother.

“You can spend quality time with your kids,” she said. “Even on the busiest days, even on the saddest days, you can always bring a child a smile by playing a game, just being goofy. They let me know that it’s OK for a mom to be goofy with her kids. I thank them for that every year.”

Another former Dance Marathon alumna and Jason’s brother Joseph’s girlfriend, Whitney Duncan, said she hadn’t met Jason many times, but his story motivated her to dance the full 24 hours at the Big Event and inspires her to live life to the fullest.

“You remember all these stories, and Jason’s had been in my mind the whole time, and it motivated me to keep going,” she said.

Stewart, who was initially a high-school student and hospital volunteer when she met Jason, said her ties to the Eckrich family inspired her to form connections with other kids and families through Dance Marathon once she started college.

“They let me into their lives at such an intimate part of their lives,” she said. “Being someone that they welcomed into their home and on my end being someone who could go into their house and … help this kid feel normal was really empowering.”

While Jason may no longer be here, his loved ones continue to keep the memory of him — and his love of music, Miley Cyrus, and the color pink — alive.

“He’s singing in our hearts,” Duncan said.

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About the Writer
Marissa Payne, Managing Editor


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @marissa42_

Marissa Payne is the Managing Editor of The Daily Iowan. She started working at the DI her...

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