Student-Athlete Dancers Discuss What THON Means to Them
The four Nittany Lions who will represent the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board and dance in THON this weekend convened at Lasch Football Building Wednesday morning to discuss their excitement for the weekend.
Football’s Charlie Shuman, women’s soccer’s Megan Schafer, field hockey’s Carly Celkos, and fencing’s Jessica O’Neil-Lyublinsky have spent countless hours fundraising and volunteering. Now, all their hard work will pay off with an unforgettable experience down on the floor.
“You see all these pictures and everyone talks about it, but I don’t think anyone really experiences THON until they’re actually here,” Schafer said. “My freshman year I was only really involved with athlete hour and the pep rally.”
The rising senior forward from Langhorne, Pa., watched a pair of her former teammates dance as members of SAAB last year in Angela Widlacki and Lilsi Vink-Lainas. She mentioned that the athletes’ offseason preparation for their respective sports has been a big help.
“We’ve been training, so it’s not really for the physical part but more mental,” she added. “I think it’s good that we’re all friends and we’ll be able to get each other through it.”
Celkos, a senior midfielder for the field hockey team, hails from Berlin, N.J., and didn’t have much experience with THON coming to Penn State, but immediately fell in love with the event and what it means to the university community.
“I really didn’t know that much about THON but I got involved because my teammates really encouraged me to do it,” Celkos said. “Every year I’ve been on a committee and I’ve been learning more and more.
“A lot of the field hockey girls have danced and I’ve been constantly texting them. They’ve been sending me advice, like what to do leading up, what to expect, how to recover.”
O’Neil-Lyublinsky, a junior epee fencer for the Nittany Lions, also touched on some of the tips former SAAB dancers have given her in the weeks leading up to Friday afternoon’s anticipated start. The importance of stretching throughout was a common theme.
“Well, the main advice they’ve all given me is, ‘Don’t be sore going into THON!'” she said with a laugh.
The North Salem, N.Y., native added that she and the rest of the athletes are focused on making it as enjoyable of an experience as they can for all the THON families who will be in attendance.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all the kids on the floor and just having a good time as kind of an escape from what they’re going through,” O’Neil-Lyublinsky said.
Shuman, an offensive tackle from Pittsford, N.Y., said that a main factor in his decision to forgo a scholarship from Old Dominion and accept a preferred walk-on spot in Happy Valley came down to the university’s extensive culture of giving back.
“My grandfather ran track here back in the 40s. Once I honestly got the offer to come here, it was like I couldn’t say no. Now that I’ve been here for three years, I know that I made the right decision.”
He and teammate Andrew Nelson both participated in the popular “No Hair, Don’t Care” event Monday in the HUB. Shuman’s first glimpse of THON came during a family vacation to Key West for his mother’s birthday a few years ago.
“I was sitting next to the pool on my laptop. I caught the last 30 minutes when they raised up the money, too. That was the year they raised $13 million (2014) and I was just like, ‘Wow! That’s crazy!’ I didn’t know what to say, I was like, ‘Mom, look what they did! I’m going there!'”
Shuman offered a little insight into how the athletes found out they had been selected to dance.
“It was a Wednesday night after one of the basketball games and Angela Widlacki called us in for a meeting. She was like, ‘Hey guys, you’ve all raised so much money, you’re all really close. We’re gonna have you write an essay to decide [who dances]between you. We all open our laptops, open up Word, and start typing. Then she was like, ‘Nah, I’m just kidding, you guys are all dancing.'”
Though not having to add another essay to their busy schedules was a welcome development, it’s fair to assume all four of the SAAB dancers could talk or write for hours about what participating in this year’s event means to them.
“The hope is to be in bed by 5:00 on Sunday and then wake up for class at 10:00,” Shuman said. “All my friends said they’ve never had a problem sleeping for 16 hours after THON.”