THON a life-changing experience for PS-New Kensington students

| Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Dancing for 46 hours without sitting or sleeping seems impossible, but that's what four Penn State New Kensington students endured last weekend at the university's IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon — better known as THON.

THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, raises money and awareness to fight pediatric cancer and culminates in a no-sitting, no-sleeping, 46-hour dance marathon every February.

THON raised a record $12.37 million last weekend, and 710 students danced to take a stand against pediatric cancer.

Penn State New Kensington's THON dancers raised $43,539 — the third largest amount in campus history. They placed sixth in fundraising among Penn State's 20 Commonwealth Campuses this year.

New Kensington's four dancers were Bill Staniszewski, Leigh Hastings, Courtney Rockwell and Aric Fellers.

“Our dancers all went in with so much excitement,” said Kelsie Nury, New Kensington's THON chairwoman.

“They all hit points throughout the weekend just like every other dancer where it's kind of like hitting a wall, but they looked up to their ‘moralers' and our student section and got their energy back.”

The physical and mental toll of not sitting or sleeping for 46 hours burdened New Kensington's dancers.

“The pain in your feet was absolutely incredible, and I never thought my feet would hurt that bad,” said Fellers, who raised more than $2,100. “You just have to keep moving and ignore the pain.”

Staniszewski, who raised more than $1,900, had a difficult time walking from previous injuries as the weekend lingered.

“I've sprained my ankles multiple times, so toward the end there every step I would take I was rolling my ankles over,” Staniszewski said. “Luckily, I was able to get those taped up real good.”

The dancers also faced mental roadblocks.

“At one point I just got really, really tired like I wanted to go to bed,” said Hastings, who raised more than $1,600. “I feel like that only happened to me once. When that happened to me, I was by myself.”

Exhaustion also set in for Rockwell more than halfway through the weekend.

“I hit a wall on Saturday, and I didn't think I was going to be able to make it,” said Rockwell, who raised more than $2,000.

The dancers, however, found inspiration to keep standing despite the challenges they faced.

They read letters from friends and strangers that they kept in their fanny packs.

“I kept a letter we got in the mail from a lady that read our article in the paper,” Hastings said. “Her 4-year-old son had cancer, and she said she appreciated everything we do. If I ever felt like, you know, could I do this, I just read that and knew I could.”

They also looked to their families for motivation.

“My mom definitely helped,” Rockwell said. “When I saw her on the floor I definitely cried, because I missed her so much. She reminded me I was doing this for the kids.”

The dancers also looked to Penn State New Kensington's student section and their moralers for encouragement.

“New Kensington's students dancing in the stands were so incredible,” Staniszewski said. “My moraler was my main source of motivation. She texted me at all hours of the night and day even when she wasn't with me.”

Fellers couldn't eat or drink at one point, but he got an unsuspected boost from a family whose child was battling cancer.

“I was leaning against a wall trying to stretch my feet and a Four Diamonds family talked to my parents and me,” Fellers said. “They thanked me for dancing and said they believed in me and to keep going.”

It was a life-changing experience for each dancer.

“There's no way that something like this couldn't change your life, whether it's your first time, second time or third time,” Staniszewski said. “It's going to change your life every single time.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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