Quite a Journey to the Dance Floor

January 31, 2019
Topics: Donors, Riley Kid Story

that image
Tad with his niece, Christina

“The world is still just as beautiful, but the dancing has hit me harder,” said Tad Starsiak, a celebrity dancer in Reason to Dance, a ballroom dance competition coming up March 8 to benefit Riley Hospital for Children. 

On January 22, 2019, the day before his dance lesson, Tad learned that his 14-month-old niece Christina was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL.) “My sister, Christina’s mom, is only 11 months younger than me,” said Tad. “We’re very close. She pulled herself up after having a few rough years, and now this.”

Tad would know precisely what ‘a few rough years’ looks like. When he was only 12, his mom died suddenly of a drug addiction. “I wasn’t young enough that her death just passed over me, but also not old enough to really understand.” 

He was sent to live with his father and that was a difficult time. There were days he needed the comfort of his dad. 12-year-old Tad stood at his door knocking. Then pounding. His father didn’t respond. “I realized at that moment I was nobody’s first priority anymore.” Soon after his maternal aunt committed suicide. The next year, his maternal uncle. Months later, his best friend and his grandmother died. 

A Turning Point

Tad was in a bad place. At age 14 his brother suggested getting away on a retreat. After two weeks surrounded by people “laying on the love” as he describes it, the retreat became a turning point in his life. He came to understand the power of vulnerability. “When I come from a position of vulnerability, I gain compassion, trust and empathy with people,” he said. 

He also figured out a way to harness his incredible positivity about life, and one that research shows is an important quality in resilient people. As a student at Indiana University, he was a member of the co-ed cheer squad. He went on to work for a nationwide cheer company, then became head cheer coach at Cardinal Ritter High School, his alma mater. He then went to work on the hit HGTV show, “Good Bones.” Now in its 4th season, Tad is Head Demo Dude and Project Manager of this Indianapolis-based TV show that turns rundown homes in Indy into stunning models. 

Giving Back

These days, he is adding fundraising to his resume. It was easy for Tad to say ‘yes’, even before Christina’s diagnosis, when asked to join Reason to Dance “People want change, but they don’t want to change. I don’t want to be like that. This is something that would be a challenge for me, and could help create positive ripples in the lives of many.” 

Back to Christina. If a story were scripted for Tad to tug at readers’ heartstrings the hardest, it couldn’t have been written any better. Starting with his own life struggles, to raising money for Riley Hospital—with no personal Riley connection—to the punch to the gut of hearing Christina’s diagnosis.  

“You wonder how this could happen to an innocent little baby,” said Tad. “It’s never been my job to ask “why” though. It’s my job to react to it as positively as possible because that’s where growth happens. When you can see suffering in a positive light that is something that spurs us forward to become stronger people. Despite the gnawing pain, inability to grasp why awful things happen, one must remember the world is still just as beautiful, despite our minds telling us at times the world is an ugly place. Be the reason it’s not.” 

Meet Tad and support his efforts THIS Friday, Feb. 1: 
Chilly Water Brewing Company, 5pm – midnight 
Percentage of all purchases go to support Tad’s goal of raising $20,000 for Riley Hospital. 
Can’t make it? Donate or buy a ticket HERE.

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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