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Penn State's THON sets record with $12.37M take

| Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Students at Penn State University's THON danced their way to a record this year in raising money to fight pediatric cancer.

University organizers said on Sunday that THON, a yearlong fundraiser that culminated with a dance marathon, raised $12.37 million, up from $10.6 million the previous year.

“I'm so overwhelmed I can't believe it,” spokeswoman Samantha Agostino said.

Agostino, a junior from New City, N.Y.,had no explanation for the record, nearly a 17 percent increase over last year.

“Our volunteers are just so passionate about this cause,” she said.

About 15,000 students are involved in year-round fundraising efforts, and about 4,000 volunteers help dancers and put on the show on THON weekend.

The students set the record despite Hurricane Sandy, which forced the cancellation of some THON fundraising trips, and continuing fallout from a sex abuse scandal involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

“I think it just shows how powerful our student volunteers are,” said Daria Sakharova, 22, of South Fayette, a communications captain for the event.

“We've been told again and again, ‘You can't do it, it'll never happen, you can't beat $10 million.' And then we beat the record again.”

With this year's total, students have raised more than $100 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital since 1977.

The event involves more than 700 participants standing on their feet for 46 hours, supported by thousands of volunteers. Pediatric cancer patients and their families attend the event, which takes over the 15,200-seat Bryce Jordan Center.

“Honestly, it's an indescribable feeling. It's so much fun. You walk in and feel the love in the building,” said Rebecca Roderick, 20, a junior from Allison Park.

Her two sisters — Nicole, a 2008 graduate, and Kristin, a 2011 grad — also volunteered for THON. Rebecca Roderick is a family relations captain, a liaison between fundraiser organizers and families of children with cancer. The family relations team helps provide emotional support for cancer families and arranges for them to attend the marathon.

“They were definitely blown away,” she said. “Every cent we raised is very important to them, and they're appreciative of the number.”

Tiffany Weinsheimer of Lancaster attended the event with her family, husband Jack, and sons Bryan, 11, and Braydan, 6, and other relatives. Bryan found out six years ago that he had brain cancer. Since then, he has had six months of chemotherapy, three surgeries, six weeks of radiation therapy and gamma knife surgery.

Bryan will go to the Hershey Medical Center on March 1 to learn if he passed the five-year mark for being cancer-free. During THON, dancers from Omega Phi Alpha sorority and Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity fought sleep to raise money in his name.

“This year, we had four dancers on the floor for Bryan, and they stood on the floor for 46 hours straight. No sleeping or sitting the whole time,” said Tiffany Weinsheimer, 32.

Because of THON, the family has not had to pay any of more than $1 million in medical costs. In addition, Four Diamonds gave the family gas cards to drive to Hershey for Bryan's radiation therapy and meal cards for the family while he was in the hospital.

“I've never seen a bill,” Weinsheimer said.

Staff writer Matthew Santoni contributed to this report. Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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