After the music stopped at Dare to Dance 2023 – the Kidney Foundation of Greater Chattanooga’s annual heel-kicking fundraiser – the numbers added up to a victory for Chattanooga Bar Association Executive Director Lynda Hood: More than $80,000 in donations, making Hood the People’s Choice Champion for the most money raised; the adulatory applause of more than 700 attendees; and enough votes for Hood and her dance partner, professional dance teacher Joel Thomas, to place third overall.
The numbers also included three fractured ribs.
Several weeks before Hood and Thomas hopped onto the dance floor at the Chattanooga Convention Center Oct. 28 (each draped in a silky white fighter’s robe and wielding a pair of boxing gloves while bouncing in time to the theme from “Rocky”), the pair was practicing an especially tricky move when Hood lost a battle with gravity and hit the floor with a thump.
Hood initially pushed through what she says was minimal pain because she was determined to pull off the maneuver during their performance. Eventually, the pair replaced the move with a flourish that was a better fit for the routine. Hood also requested a nuclear scan of her shoulder.
“I was hurting, and I thought, ‘Oh Lord, cancer,’” says Hood, who fought breast cancer 26 years ago. “So, I called my doctor and said, ‘Can we do a nuclear bone scan? And can you also check my ribs?’”
To Hood’s relief, the scan revealed only fractured ribs. However, she says the reminder of her bout with cancer splashed fresh fuel on her already fervent motivation for participating in Dare to Dance: contributing to a cause that will benefit untold numbers of people in the greater Chattanooga community.
Hood raised funds specifically for the Kidney Foundation’s Transportation Assistance Program (TAP), which is budgeted at $67,000 in 2023, making it one of the foundation’s largest line items. The service offers patients monthly assistance grants with their transit to dialysis, transplant or other renal-related appointments.
Dialysis patients typically travel to their clinic three times a week and are sometimes too tired or weak to drive after treatment, Hood says. The grants ensure patients have safe and reliable transportation so they never miss a life-saving treatment.
“I love helping this community, and while dancing and competing with my professional partner was fun, the real winners are the kidney patients whose lives will be positively impacted through our efforts,” Hood adds.
To raise funds for the Kidney Foundation’s TAP, Hood spent several months calling people on the phone and soliciting donations via emails and text messages. In addition to long sessions of focused fundraising, she often reached out in the middle of her daily routine when a potential donor came to mind.
“I even texted people while I was on my treadmill,” Hood laughs. “I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
Hood’s clash with cancer also informed their song selection and dance choreography, says Thomas, who worked with Hood to develop a story about fighting and standing strong during a battle against kidney disease.
“We considered several different songs, but we chose four that reflected the stages you go through emotionally when a doctor diagnoses you with a life-threatening disease,” explains Thomas. “We started with the ‘Rocky’ theme and came out boxing. We wanted the audience to instantly recognize every song, so we then switched to Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You.’ When you first find out you have kidney disease, you’re like, ‘I have to rock this.’ And then we jumped into Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat it.’”
Hood and Thomas lifted the choreography for this portion of their dance from Jackson’s 1982 video for the song. They then segued to their big finish – a triumphant shoulder lift to “I’m Still Standing.”
“Lynda nailed it,” Thomas gushes. “All I hope for as a dance teacher is someone who will do their best, but she went out there with a smile and conquered every move without hesitation. The crowd went wild.”
The duo dedicated their dance to “everyone who’s standing strong in their fight with kidney disease,” Hood says, as well as to the memory of the late John Higgason, an attorney and CBA member who fought kidney disease for 34 years.
“John endured dialysis three days a week with a positive attitude and without self-pity, all while maintaining an interest in others – and in honor of his wife, Connie, who donated one of her kidneys to extend his life,” Hood recalls.
Higgason’s surviving wife, as well as his daughter, Katherine Lentz, applauded Hood’s performance from their seats at the Convention Center. Lentz, an attorney with Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison in Chattanooga, says Hood’s tribute to her father moved her emotionally.
“My dad loved to dance, supported and volunteered for The Kidney Foundation, enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow attorneys, and appreciated the support of the Chattanooga Bar Association and Lynda. Lynda’s dedication would have honored and tickled him. He also would have been dancing in the crowd and cheering her on.
“The Kidney Foundation provides life-sustaining services, as well as education, outreach and support to our community, and we’re grateful for the amazing efforts of all the dancers to support such an important and necessary organization in our community.”
Hood says she has many blessings to count in the wake of her Dare to Dance experience, including working with Thomas, whom she calls “an amazing dancer” and “a remarkable teacher,” and the support of her donors.
She counts the opportunity to serve the many patients who are standing strong in their battle against kidney disease as a special blessing, she adds. “While the past few months have been amazing, we hope what we’ve done will give someone who needs it a fighting chance. That’s what this experience was about.”