Just a twenty-something living the dream, trying to check off the bucket list, one entry at a time
If you know me at all or follow me on any social media platform, then you’ve heard me talk about something called THON. But what is it and why is it so important to me? Well, with THON only 20 days away, here’s Why I Dance (I promise this will all make sense).
Now for some background. The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, better known as THON is a yearlong fundraising effort that raises money and awareness for the Four Diamonds Fund at Hershey Medical Center. The Four Diamonds Fund is a charity that provides emotional and financial support for families and children battling pediatric cancer as well as funds research efforts to cure pediatric cancer. The Four Diamonds Fund ensures that no family battling cancer ever has to see a bill. The Four Diamonds Fund takes care of all bills not covered by insurance, provides families with gas and food vouchers, provides patients with music therapy and a whole host of tools to make sure that each and every family can focus solely on beating cancer without worrying about money. It’s a beautiful organization, so please, check out their website for more information. The Four Diamonds are Courage, Honesty, Wisdom and Strength.
THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Since THON began in 1973, Penn State students have raised over $101 million for the Four Diamonds Fund. In 2013, THON raised $12.3 million in one year. Each year, over 15,000 students from across all of Penn State’s campuses raise money and awareness with our efforts culminating in a 46-hour, no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon.
When I started college, I knew immediately THON was something I wanted to be a part of. But I didn’t have a personal connection besides just wanting to get involved. I got involved through an independent organization, which basically means I’m part of a club who’s sole purpose is all THON all the time.
I can say unequivocally, without a doubt, getting involved in THON was the best decision I have ever made. THON has changed my life, and I’m being dead serious when I say that. The friends I’ve made have become family, and the lessons I’ve learned are invaluable. But, last year, even as I participated and raised money for THON, I didn’t have a concrete reason as to why I did all that, besides it being a great cause.
That all changed the minute I walked into the Bryce Jordan Center arena for my first THON Weekend. At the end of those 46 hours, I knew without a doubt Why I Dance.
But to understand those reasons, you need to understand what THON Weekend is like. Unfortunately, the best description of THON is “indescribable.” But I’ll give it my best shot.
This is a panoramic of the BJC in the middle of THON. It’s full of color and packed to capacity with students, Four Diamonds Families and volunteers. THON is a dance marathon, and every organization selects a pre-alloted number of dancers to represent them on the dance floor. There are about 710 dancers on the floor for the entire 46 hours. The rest of the students pack themselves into the stands and it’s basically a three-day party. Four Diamonds families are always around and at any given time, there’s bunches of little kids running around with water guns and beach balls.
The point of THON Weekend is to let the families and kids battling cancer have a great time without thinking about cancer or worrying. As THON volunteers, we try our best to give the kids and families the best weekend of the year.
But, that being said, THON is a roller coaster of emotions. Even though it’s the most fun weekend of the year, not sleeping or sitting down for 46 hours takes its toll. But really, when a kid walks across the THON stage and tells the entire arena that he’ll never have to have surgery again and will never need to walk with crutches or braces, it’s impossible not to lose it.
But even though THON is indescribably amazing, I can try and tell you what it’s like. From the moment you walk in, there’s a feeling of hope and love. There’s that we can and will beat this horrible disease. There’s hope that one day, we will dance in celebration and not for a cure. There’s hope that one day, we won’t need to have a dance marathon.
The final four hours of THON are arguably the best and hardest hours of THON. By this point, everyone is completely exhausted (and slightly delirious). The Final Four begins with a presentation from the Millard family, the founders of the Four Diamonds Fund. There’s a wonderful video of former Four Diamonds kids who have beaten cancer. The video shows these beautiful kids and all the wonderful things they’re doing, like going to college or being elected president of their high school class. It’s so uplifting.
But, then comes the hard part. Family hour. Various families tell their stories. Some are happy and some are sad. It’s a given that you’ll shed a few tears. But this isn’t event the hardest part. The harder part is the Celebration of Life Video. This video, which unfortunately gets a little longer every year, is a tribute and memorial with the soundtrack “Angels Among Us” to all the kids who have lost their battle with cancer. And it is hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever had to watch.
The entire arena is sobbing. And I’m not talking sniffles or teary eyes. No, I’m talking gut-wrenching, hear-tuggling, shoulder-shaking sobs. All 15,000 of us are standing arm-in-arm, sharing tissues and hugs crying about this damn disease and those beautiful kids who will never get a first date or a high school prom or a college graduation or kids of their own. We’re crying for their parents and sisters and brothers and families. We’re crying because this evil disease does not discriminate and it doesn’t care. If you’ve ever been kicked repeatedly in the chest, this is how watching the Celebration of Life video feels.
But, after we’ve recovered and hugged it out, we go back to one giant party. After a performance from Go-Go Gadjet, a really awesome band, we get to hear the reveal of the THON total.
The reveal of the THON total is the most magical moment of the weekend. The dancers are finally allowed to sit after spending 46 hours on their feet. There’s so much tension and anticipation as we watch the THON student directors hold up the numbers that make up the total. For a split second after the numbers go up, there’s a millisecond of silence.
And then, the place explodes. I swear, I’ve been to rock concerts that aren’t that loud. If we could blow the roof of the arena, I think we would have.
And then, at the end of the weekend, I realized Why I Dance. I dance for the kids. I dance for the kids that are stronger than I will ever be. I dance for the kids that fight like hell every day. I dance for the kids who were able to beat this disease. I fight for the kids who go to school and move on with their lives.
I dance for the kids that didn’t get that chance. I dance for the beautiful Angels that were taken from us far too soon. I dance for the kids that will never get to go to college or have a first date or kids of their own. I dance for those kids who were so strong but still can’t be here with us.
I dance for their families. I dance for those parents and siblings who stand with grace and courage and wisdom and fight cancer right alongside their kids. I dance for the parents who get to rejoice in their kid’s triumph over cancer. I dance for the parents who should never have had to bury their child. I dance for the brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and grandparents.
I dance because spending 46 hours on my feet with no sleep is nothing compared to the horror those brave kids deal with every day. I dance so that for once, they don’t have to be the strong ones. I dance to give them a shoulder to lean on. I dance so they can have a respite from the fight, if only for a few days.
But I also dance for my own future kids. I dance so that I will never have to look a doctor in the eye and hear the words “your child has cancer. I’m sorry.” I dance for my friends and their future kids too. I dance because I am so grateful every day I am healthy and so are all my cousins and friends.
I dance for my friends in my THON organization. I dance because they have become my family. I dance for the strength they give me every day. I dance for how they helped me through my roughest times. I dance because they cried with me and laughed with me and supported me.
I dance because I am so proud that I go to a school where the students happily give up hours to volunteer for such a wonderful cause. I dance because one day we will beat this disease. I dance because one day we will dance in celebration, but until then, we will dance for a cure.
I dance for Kenzie. I dance for Callie. I dance for Xavier.
I dance for Courage. I dance for Honesty. I dance for Wisdom. I dance for Strength. I dance For The Kids.