Although Cindy (Gegg) Marler was using Craig Thomas’ wheelchair due to the effects of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), she was surrounded by dancing friends, family and caring community members at the Craig Thomas Memorial Zumbathon on March 18 at St. Paul Lutheran School in Farmington.
Marler, a 53-year-old Farmington native (and daughter of Albin and Jeanie Gegg) who was recently diagnosed with ALS, traveled from her home in Kansas to be at the event. Steve and Debbie Thomas welcomed Cindy with open arms, remembering their son Craig with smiles on their faces.
The Zumbathon ran from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the school gymnasium, and many dancers stayed for all four hours. Farmington Civic Center Zumba instructors Julie Powers, Cindy Sebastian and Elizabeth Stevenson led the group in salsa, merengue, cumbia, reggaeton, bellydancing, samba, flamenco, country, and other dances.
Spectators who came to support the dancers were entertained with Latin and international music in the air and a variety of dancing techniques on the dance floor.
“We definitely had a party atmosphere in the gym,” stated Powers, event coordinator. “It was so much fun having that many people dancing at the same time – especially for this great cause. Whenever we started losing steam, we just kept thinking that we were dancing for Cindy, which kept our energy going.”
The event raised more than $5,000 for Marler, which will be used to pay for expenses not covered by her insurance. A number of Marler’s childhood friends banned together to create spa baskets for attendees to bid on, as well as a 50/50 drawing. The youth group from St. Joseph Catholic Church coordinated the concession stand, with proceeds benefiting Marler, as well.
Marler expressed her thanks to everyone who contributed to the Zumbathon, and she added, “I want to especially thank the Thomas family for their kindness and generosity. I wish I had met Craig, as I also want to live this trial with grace and faith. If I can be an inspiration to others, I will be happy. Thanks to all my friends and family for creating this fun memory for me.”
The Zumbathon® was held in memory of Craig Thomas, a man who was born and raised in Farmington. He graduated from Farmington High School in 1995. Thomas was diagnosed with ALS eight years ago, and was known throughout the area for his determination and unfaltering faith while dealing with his disease. Even though ALS is a progressive motor neuron disease that robs people of the ability to move their muscles, Thomas’ smile was constant. In an interview Thomas did with Donna Hickman several years ago, he said, “I hope if there is a legacy that it would be how God works in my life through this.” Donna went on to say, “If you begin a conversation with Craig Thomas feeling sympathy for him, you will end it feeling inspired by him.”
Thomas lost his battle with ALS on Jan. 9 at the age of 34.
Debbie Thomas addressed the Zumbathon crowd and extended her appreciation to everyone in attendance.
“We continue to be blessed by the outpouring of love and support by this community,” Thomas said, “and it is so heartwarming to see that love and support being extended to Cindy Marler and her family.”
Marler and her husband currently live in Overland Park, Kan., and their son attends college at Kansas University in Lawrence, Kan. Marler had a successful interior design business in the Kansas City area, but due to her illness she had to stop working because of the loss of strength and coordination in her hands and feet. She was a dancer most of her life and had hoped to take a Zumba class before she was diagnosed with ALS. Anyone who still wants to donate to the fund may do so by submitting a check payable to Craig Thomas Zumbathon to St. Paul Lutheran School, Attn: Zumbathon, 608 E. Columbia St., Farmington, MO 63640. Zumba is the only Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music, created by Grammy Award-winning producers, and contagious steps to form a “fitness-party” that is downright addictive.
Since its inception in 2001, the Zumba program has grown to become the world’s largest dance-fitness program with more than 12 million people of all shapes, sizes and ages taking weekly Zumba classes in over 110,000 locations across more than 125 countries.
The Farmington Civic Center offers a number of Zumba classes.