Dancing For A Cure — A First Person Perspective
Written by: PAUL ALBERICI — email@example.com
Every February since 1973, Penn State THON volunteers join in on a dance marathon that spans an entire weekend.
In recent years, out of the 15,000+ student volunteers who join in to help fight pediatric cancer, around 700 are chosen to stand the entire THON weekend; they are known as the dancers. Along with Michael Mensah, a sophomore at Penn State Brandywine, I was chosen to represent the campus at THON 2015. This experience was nothing short of amazing and will be very hard to condense into one story, but I’ll try my best.
The Friday before we stood, as I had my feet up on the headboard of the bed, I thought over and over, “Is this really happening? Am I really going through with it? Am I prepared?” All the thoughts of doubt and nerves made it hard to sleep.
We then attended the final dancer meeting 4 p.m. on Friday, just two hours before THON weekend 2015. Our school bags were filled with all different things that are vital to THON dancers as well as our custom shirts with our messages printed on the back (Mike had “Moonwalker” on his, and I had “The Captain”).
We then proceeded through the human tunnel, a pathway into the Bryce Jordan Center made up of many different people cheering us on and taking pictures. We also saw our Dancer Relation Committee Members (DRCM), basically the dancer’s life-line and constant supporter throughout THON weekend. My DRCM was Samantha Malizia, a sophomore at University Park and Mike’s DRCM was Rebecca Porter, a freshman also at University Park.
We loaded our personalized storage lockers (Mine was covered with Marvel stuff, thanks to Sam) and then proceeded out to the floor to prepare to stand. I watched as the minutes ticked by, waiting, sitting, looking for that 6 p.m. to hit. Then, after all the planning, all the preparation and all the anticipation was over, the moment we’d all been waiting for had finally arrived.
Mike and I and 700 other people said goodbye to sitting down for the rest of the weekend. Our campus’ organization roared to life with the light-up “B-WINE” sign as they began a weekend of supporting the families and dancers, while also securing a spot in the lower bowl of the stadium (which rarely ever happens.)
Between having constant water gun fights with kids and other dancers, learning the line dance, seeing my org members when they visited me on the floor and just seeing how happy the families were made, the weekend incredible. The live bands were great, playing a lot of songs people wanted to hear, especially when they played “Uptown Funk” which was our jam for the weekend. It felt good when we finally broke out our THON costumes to our THON alter egos of Michael Jackson and Captain America.
Our campus organization was the best I had seen it in the three years I had been involved in THON. Any time we looked up in the stands they were dancing around and smiling as well as holding up giant fat-heads they made of Mike and I. They were so energized the entire weekend. They also sent us amazing motivational letters and supportive messages that helped us get through some of our toughest spots and believe me, there were definitely moments of weakness.
Nobody said standing and staying awake for 46 hours was going to be easy, right? As much as I loved everything about THON weekend, it doesn’t mean it was a walk in the park. I really started feeling physical pain Saturday night after the pep-rally; my legs were starting to throb and ache. The worst point was right around when my parents came to see me Sunday morning. It was like a lucid feeling where my mind was thinking if I reached out to touch things they wouldn’t be there but I was still very much awake. As I was eating breakfast with my mother next to me, I was nearly falling asleep on her shoulder. This would happen again one more time during family hour later that day with just two hours left. The only difference was the person to snap me out of my trance was Liz who was on the floor with her press pass.
Without my friends sending me messages, my family sending me amazing packages, our DRCMs Sam and Becca keeping Mike and me going, my dance partner Mike who was the best partner out there, or seeing the THON families enjoying themselves, I wouldn’t have made it. I cannot say how thankful I am for having such an incredible support team behind us. Any moment of weakness I had, I just tried to think of the THON families who fight very real battles every day, my friends at Brandywine who believed in me enough to do this and my family who made sure I knew they had my back too.
This really showed me that it all depends on why you dance, why you THON. You have to use all of your will power to make it through the weekend. This is part of the reason why I love family hour being at the end of THON. When you are at your breaking point, you are reminded what and who this is for and why you have to be strong and be ready for them. Whether it’s the funds we raise or the shoulder we give them to help them through these troubling times.
It’s a head game, and if you aren’t down there for the right reasons, you will not make it. Your heart has to be ready to keep you going when your mind and muscles are telling you to stop. Fortunately, my partner Mike and I knew what this meant for so many people and we weren’t prepared to let any of them down.
When Go Go Gadget, the band that always wraps up THON weekend, was finished, 4 p.m. hit and we were finally able to sit once again. I couldn’t believe it was actually over; it honestly seemed like a blur. It felt more like one long day rather than an entire weekend. Then, the final piece of THON weekend — the total reveal. We waited anxiously as the commonwealth totals were put up.
It turns out Brandywine did far better than I could’ve ever imagined. We raised more than $40K and moved up to #7 on the list of top fundraising commonwealths. It was surreal seeing that name even higher on the list. All those canning shifts, all the events, all the generous donors, it all added up.
After the special interest groups and frats of University Park was announced, it was time to see what our efforts had produced. Total raised — $13,026,653.23. Once again we showed the world what a dedicated group of people can do when they band together for a good cause. I was on such an adrenaline high. We did it. That’s $13 million going to people who truly need it.
Looking back now, I think of how quickly it went. All the mental prep work, all the training, and it was now over. But just because THON weekend was over doesn’t mean we are done. Come next September, we’ll be right back at it. Cancer is still out there, families are still suffering and as long as they still need our help, THON will always be there for them.