Western Pa. students among those planning, dancing at Penn State’s THON
After nearly 40 hours of nonstop dancing, loud music and bright lights, Penn State senior Emily Rose was exhausted. But she wasn’t ready to quit.
“The entire environment — you feel constant support from everybody around you,” the 22-year-old from Mt. Pleasant said, speaking from a packed Bryce Jordan Center on the main campus of Penn State University on Sunday, where the school’s annual THON dance marathon was held this weekend.
Rose was one of more than 700 students who danced for 46 hours straight from Friday to Sunday — no sleeping, no sitting allowed — to support the organization Four Diamonds, which works to cover medical expenses for children undergoing cancer treatment at Penn State Children’s Hospital and support childhood cancer research.
This weekend’s THON raised more than $10.6 million to add to the $157 million previously raised since THON first launched in 1977. Students held up poster boards, each displaying a digit or comma: $10,621,683.76.
Rose danced in memory of her older brother, Aaron, who had leukemia and died when he was 10. She wants people to know “just how big of a deal childhood cancer is,” she said.
“The funding isn’t necessarily there for it, so organizations like these are incredible to donate to,” said Rose, who has volunteered with THON for all four of her years at Penn State but danced for the first time this year.
“The atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Taylor Evans, a senior from Bethel Park who danced in memory of her grandfather, who died from brain cancer.
Evans struggled to put her observations into words: She described a bursting arena overwhelmed by colorful, blinking signs and crowded with laughing, cheering dancers and volunteers.
Hourly group stretching exercises and peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches helped keep her motivated.
Speaking with the Tribune-Review on Saturday, she guessed she had been dancing for about 20 hours.
“No one tells how long you’ve been dancing,” she said, a tactic used to keep dancers’ spirits up.
Kelly McSteen, 20, a Penn State junior from Gibsonia, was one of the more than 16,500 student volunteers who helped to put on the event. Though she didn’t dance, she worked to manage thousands of THON merchandise items for sale throughout the weekend.
“I think this experience is so meaningful because you touch so many lives,” said McSteen, who volunteered in honor of a friend and her grandmother, who are both in remission after fighting cancer.
Seeing her peers come together as professionals to make the event possible — a real-world experience that few college students have — was an added bonus, McSteen said.
Jennifer Worek, 21, of North Huntingdon has been volunteering behind the scenes for the past three years. She had enough credits to graduate in 2018, as a junior, but added a minor and an internship to avoid giving up her fourth and final year as a THON organizer.
“I can’t imagine not being involved to this extent next year,” said Worek, who worked this year as the event’s media relations coordinator.
She plans to stay involved next year, joining the over 25,000 Penn State alumni who contributed to THON in 2018, according to figures available on the THON website.
“All the relationships we build with our families is really what makes people come back year after year,” Worek said.
Student organizations fundraising for Four Diamonds are paired with families receiving aid, Worek said. In some cases, those relationships go on for decades as alumni and families come back to support the event year after year.
“It really is a huge family around here,” Worek said.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .