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New Ken contingent to give THON a twirl

Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Penn State New Kensington sophomores (L-R) Leigh Hastings, Bill Staniszewski, Courtney Rockwell, and Aric Fellers will be taking part in the THON fundraiser at main campus in State College. Photogrpahed on Thursday, February 7, 2013.

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By Shawn Annarelli
Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 1:11 a.m.

Four Penn State New Kensington sophomores have been chosen to dance next weekend in Penn State's annual Interfraternity Council/Panhellinic Dance Marathon — better known as THON.

“You get involved with THON and at first you don't understand all of it, but as I got more involved, I caught the spirit of THON,” said Bill Staniszewski, one of PSNK's four dancers. “This is my first THON, ... so I'm excited to experience everything for the first time.”

Courtney Rockwell, Leigh Hastings and Aric Fellers will join Staniszewski for the grueling marathon from Feb. 15-18.

“I'm looking forward to going back to THON,” Hastings said. “I went to THON last year, and now I'll get to experience it in a different way.”

The four dancers will have to stand on their feet for the duration of the 46-hour charity fundraiser inside University Park's Bryce Jordan Center.

“I can't think of anything not to look forward to, because it's going to be an amazing life-changing experience,” Fellers said.

In order to handle the hardships each dancer faces, they've been preparing themselves mentally and physically in the weeks leading up to THON.

“Standing for 46 hours takes a great physical toll on everyone, so I've been working out at the gym for four or five days a week,” Fellers said. “I think I'll try to pull an all-nighter and stand on my feet for 24 straight hours (this) weekend to see what I can do.”

Staniszewski is changing his diet to prepare his body.

“I've been told to cut out caffeine from my diet, so I did that,” Staniszewski said. “I've also been told to bring at least two comfortable pairs of shoes.”

Erin Prager, one of PSNK's dancers last year, offered advice for this year's dancers.

“Try to take it all in before you can't remember things,” Prager said. “Walk slowly through the human tunnel. It will take your breath away.”

Each dancer had to raise more than $1,000 for the Four Diamonds Fund, which THON benefits, attend more than 75 percent of PSNK's THON meetings and pass a series of interviews.

“We did just about everything we could to raise money for THON,” Rockwell said.

PSNK's dancers helped to organize the first-ever, 12-hour mini-THON at Burrell High School, hosted spaghetti dinners on weekends and solicited money with THONvelopes to friends and family.

“Some donate a lot of money and some donate $5,” Rockwell said.

“And every donation counts.”

Each dancer was prompted by personal connections to cancer to volunteer for THON.

“I think everyone is connected to cancer in some way, and everyone knows someone directly or indirectly that has battled cancer,” Hastings said.

Cancer's effects are especially vivid to Fellers, because he has watched two adults lose their life to cancer in the last two years.

“My uncle's girlfriend was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she went from being a beautiful mother to wasting away to nothing,“ Fellers said.

“This past summer, my best friend's mother passed away from leukemia. Seeing what cancer does really had an effect on me.”

Now, they're looking forward to having an effect on kids with pediatric cancer.

“When you're on the floor with kids for 46 hours, you get a personal connection with them that you never thought you could have with a child before,” Rockwell said.

“You're there to support them, to tell them they're not alone — to tell them that they're going to win their battle.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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