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What THON Means to Me

by and on February 22, 2014 11:00 AM

The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, more commonly known as THON, holds a very special place in my heart.

I’ve participated as a student volunteer since I was a freshman at Penn State.

While I can’t count the number of hours of work I’ve put in or even the number of hours of lost sleep, it’s a sacrifice I would make over and over again if I had the chance.

This is the last year I’ll be able to participate in THON because I’m a senior and will be graduating in May. For the past four years I’ve been a member of three different committees, each with its own responsibilities. I’ve been the police officer in red (Rules and Regulations), the janitor in blue (OPPerations) and most recently the lunch lady in pink (Hospitality). I can’t say I had a favorite committee; each had their pros and cons. But what I can say is that no matter what job I undertook I know I made a difference.

I’m not going to lie. THON is a tough weekend. I’ve had to withstand aches and pains in my back and feet as I stood for hour after hour, after hour. I’ve had to give up a lot of sleep that as a college student, I desperately need. And as I’ve never danced myself, I’ve had to be the support system for my friends and classmates as they braved the 46-hour no sleeping, no sitting dance marathon.

On paper, yes, this sounds absolutely crazy. But considering more than 15,000 Penn State students participate in THON every year, it must not be that crazy after all.

That pain that I felt? It’s nothing. It’ll be gone come Monday morning. The sleep that I lost? Who cares? I can make it up next week. These things are only minor speed bumps in my life, things that in a couple of days will be completely forgotten.

I can’t complain about things so minuscule when I’m looking at children who have lost their hair, can’t go to public school because they’re in the hospital too much or can’t play sports because their muscles are too weak. These kids have real things to complain about. I don’t.

So why do I THON? That’s a question I’ve been asked more times than I know. There’s no one simple way to answer that question because I THON for so many reasons.

I THON for the kids. I THON for the families. I THON so that no more parents have to say goodbye to their children. I THON because I want to make a difference. I THON because I can.

The magic that takes place in the Bryce Jordan Center on a weekend in February is indescribable. The arena is filled with the colors of the rainbow. Music is blasting from all corners of the building and everyone is singing and dancing along. Nearly drowning out the music are giggles and squeals from the children as they run around with their new friends. Students ranging in age from 17 to 23 are acting like little kids again, giving the children piggyback rides and challenging them to water gun fights.

And parents just stand back and watch in admiration as their children laugh and smile and take advantage of this one weekend a year -- this one weekend where they can just be kids again.

THON isn’t just a weekend. It’s not just an event and it’s not just a celebration of the volunteers’ hard work.

THON is a celebration of life. It’s a celebration of these children who are faced with a disease that is unfair -- disease that is selfish and wrong. It’s a celebration of the families that are going through the worst times of their lives. And pediatric cancer is what did this. Pediatric cancer needs to be stopped.

I, along with thousands of other Penn State students, have decided to take a stand against cancer. We will stand for those who can’t and we will fight until there’s no longer anything to fight against. It’s time for cancer to learn who’s boss.

Unfortunately, cancer isn’t something we can take away from these children and their families. But what we can take away is medical bills and fear, worries and sadness. For those 46 hours during THON weekend, that’s exactly what we do.

And in exchange for the things we take away, we get to bring smiles to the children’s faces.

Throughout the year and especially during THON weekend, students, children and families can be seen throwing their hands in the air in the shape of a diamond. This diamond is the symbol of THON and the Four Diamonds Fund.

The diamond symbolizes the four diamonds of the fund: courage, wisdom, honesty and strength. They represent what we are fighting for and what we are trying to do. They also represent the children and the skills they must possess to conquer cancer. These four diamonds are THON.

For me, THON is hope. It's hope for the future and hope for a cure. And it's hope for these beautiful, unbelievably strong children. They are my role models. They show me the true meaning of life. They encourage me to live life to the fullest and to never regret a single second. I’ve learned so many lessons from these children and for that I must give them something in return.

I THON for the kids.

Related Stories:

Behind the Scenes of THON 2014

CATA Expands Bus Service for THON Event

Students Stand Up for THON, Waiting in Line for Hours

Invention Designed By Penn State Students Aims to Protect THON Dancers From Dehydration

State College Native has Critical Role in Final THON Before Graduation

A Different Approach to State Patty's Day: THON Appreciation Day

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Morgan Hill is senior journalism major and intern for The Centre County Gazette.
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