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Penn State dancers exercise to prepare for THON

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 4:06 p.m.

STATE COLLEGE — Bend at the knees, then jump and reach for the ceiling with arms extended. Repeat as a catchy song echoes through the gym.

The 30-minute fitness class for Penn State dance marathon participants was just a tiny preview of the grueling 46-hour event for charity that starts Friday.

The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon is billed as the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. For the first time, workouts were offered for the more than 700 participants, as well as the army of volunteers, to get in shape for the annual epic affair.

“It's going to be one of the hardest things I'll do in my life,” said junior Briana Marshall, a dancer.

Two-steppers are urged to lay off caffeine and alcohol, and to get eight hours of sleep a night.

But college isn't necessarily conducive to getting a good night's sleep.

“It's kind of hard to do as a student,” Marshall said. “But I try to catch up on weekends.” Senior Janelle Stine sat waiting on a hallway floor next to Marshall to get into a recent workout class.

“I tried to drink coffee only when absolutely necessary,” Stine said. “Only one or two days have I had coffee since December.”

To help dancers stay in shape, Penn State fitness instructors came up with the idea of workouts specifically for THON this year and worked with the student organizers to plan two classes a week beginning in January.

The classes consist of bursts of aerobic workouts and strength exercises for lower backs and gluteal muscles, said junior Allie McIlvane, the headset-wearing instructor.

The workout class “is so much more than just cardio or ab work or just strength,” THON spokeswoman Cat Powers said.

“Really, just 46 hours strains every inch of your body.”

The students say they're motivated by the cause. THON, as it's commonly known to students and alumni, has raised more than $88 million over almost three dozen years. The money goes to the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital in Hershey to benefit pediatric cancer research and care.

Last year, the event raised a record $10.68 million. Passionate volunteers live by the THON motto “For the Kids.”

Marshall said she was dancing in part “just to prove to myself that I can do something like this ... but it's also to stand up for the cause of pediatric cancer and give back to the community. It's something that I've always wanted to do.”

Dancers can get a natural energy boost with this year's other new addition to marathon weekend. A project called Dance With Us is billed as a global line dance for pediatric cancer awareness, a 30-second turn that organizers hope that fans and alumni around the world participate in via a live stream on THON's Facebook page. It's scheduled for early Saturday evening, right around the middle of the marathon.

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