Penn State students dance to put an end to pediatric cancer
By: Paul Alberici, Lion’s Eye Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Since the late 1970’s, The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, commonly known as “THON” has raised millions to benefit families who are experiencing hardships associated with pediatric cancer while also helping fund cancer research at the Hershey Medical Center through The Four Diamonds Fund.
The main event of each year is the Dance Marathon in State College where student volunteers stand and dance without resting for 46 straight hours from 6:00 p.m. Friday night to 4:00 p.m. Sunday night. In THON 2016, Brandywine’s Benefitting THON group once again sent dancers to the dance floor to take the stand against pediatric cancer to join the 705 other dancers.
This year’s dancers from Brandywine were #18A: Alexis Proctor; #18B: Derek Osborn; and #18C: Abby Wilt. Each of them went through both physical and mental training to take on the task.
“I just tried to get lots of sleep two weeks ahead of time,” sophomore Public Relations Captain Alexis Proctor said. “I also started drinking a lot of water and did cardio leading up to the weekend.”
“Going in I knew I could do it, I had to, so there was no stopping me from getting through, and physically I tried to work out every day, working on cardio, my legs, and my lower back,” Derek Osborn, THON’s Fundraising Captain added.
“[I went to the] gym about every day for an hour where I mixed strength training and cardio to build strength and endurance,” senior Abby Wilt, whose involvement in THON started back in 2012, said. “The mental part didn’t really set in until after the weekend, knowing family and friends were with me every step of the way.”
Throughout the weekend, the dancers play games, listen to a variety of live music and just play with the kids who are on the dance floor of the Bryce Jordan Center. They learn the THON line dance which is new each year and highlights Penn State news, world news and pop culture references from the year prior. There are also visits from major personalities from the university both alumni and current.
“[One of my favorite parts was] The Pep rally and getting to see Leah and Devon Still,” Proctor said. “Plus, all of the fun dances from sports teams.”
The weekend itself is both trying and painful for the dancers. The physical pain of standing for such a long period of time is only matched by the mental and emotional fatigue that goes with staying awake. Around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning (which is hour 33 of 46), the dancers are given what is called a “support pass,” this is a short period of time where the dancers get to see two people closest to them and all three of the dancers agreed that was one of the toughest points of the weekend.
“That was when what I call ‘sleepy tears’ kicked in,” Wilt said. “Seeing people close to me at that time made me realize I was close but, I was so tired at that point.”
However, this also came right before the final four hours. During this time one of the most emotional periods of the weekend begins, known as “Family Hour.” During this period of the weekend, Four Diamonds families affected by cancer are introduced. There are multiple speeches made by the affected families, with some of the stories told by both the kids and their parents, but other families only have a picture of their child to hold on to. There is then a slideshow across the big screen in the arena, commemorating all those who had lost their battle with pediatric cancer over the years. The emotion was felt throughout the stadium, as all the THON volunteers in the stadium linked arms and showed their unity in the fight against cancer.
The Brandywine dancers took the stand and then succeeded in making it through all 46 hours without sitting or sleeping, and they were very excited about what they had just gone through.
“It was the best feeling ever, being able to dance meant that I could do anything and everything for these amazing kids,” Proctor said.
Getting to finally sit again after standing for so long was a welcome feeling, not just because of the chance to relieve their pain, but for a much bigger reason.
“It wasn’t so much the fact we got to sit after 46 hours,” Osborn said. “But the feeling of accomplishment that we did it. We made it 46 hours without sleeping or sitting. I felt like I made that small difference I cared so much to make, and I felt like I did something important.”
Shortly after the dancers got to sit came the moment everyone anticipated, the total reveal of how much THON had raised this year. THON 2016’s total was $9,770,332.32. While this number was lower than years prior, this number also comes with only one canning weekend being held rather than the usual three weekends throughout the fall. Canning is usually the biggest way that THON raises money throughout the Commonwealth. With that in mind, and knowing that the families are benefitted regardless of the total, none of the dancers were disappointed.
“I am very pleased, especially with what happened this year,” Wilt said. “Regardless of whatever was raised, I’m happy knowing any bit goes to the families and research to find a cure.”
Going through something this monumental tends to leave an impression on those involved and each of the campus’ dancers have something they’ll take away from this experience.
“The best thing I’ll probably take away is just taking it all in, and by that I mean, just looking at the kids playing and enjoying themselves for one amazing weekend knowing that I’m a part of why they can have a big smile on their faces is something I’ll keep in my heart forever,” Proctor said.
“The biggest thing I’ll take away from the weekend is how much of a difference dancing can actually make for the families. All the little kids I saw and all the kids I could make happy and have fun with, that what’s dancing is all about, that’s what we’re here to do, to make a difference in those kids lives and make it so that they don’t have to be a cancer patient anymore, they can be kids again,” Osborn said.
“My biggest take away from this will be the memories and friendships especially with this being my last THON,” Wilt said. “Not just with this year, but over my time at Penn State, I am so happy that I got to meet our THON family and all the amazing people within our THON group. I’ve grown so close to all of them.”
The end of THON weekend put a close on the fundraising year of 2016. Now, the returning students begin planning for the next year. Come September, Penn State students will come together once again to show the world what a bunch of college students can do when they unite for one cause “For the Kids and For the Cure.”