As THON weekend rapidly approaches, last-minute fundraisers create an energetic buzz and a final round of preparations are made, some dancers may be intimidated by the prospect of remaining awake and standing for 46 hours. Several may be feeling more prepared thanks to a previous weekend spent dancing during the annual event supporting the Four Diamonds Fund for pediatric cancer patient care and research at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.
Some, like senior dancer Sarafina Valenti, have an even higher level of dancing experience. The former Penn State women’s soccer goalkeeper will dance in THON for the third consecutive year this weekend.
“It’s an experience that you never forget,” said Valenti, who will represent Penn State’s Student Athlete Advisory Board at THON.
Valenti, who finished her fourth and final season with Penn State women’s soccer this past fall, danced in her first THON in 2018 alongside then-teammate Megan Schafer. She’s joined this year by junior winger, teammate and roommate Kerry Abello.
Valenti appeared in only 14 matches over the course of her Penn State career, but her dedication and energetic personality made her a fan and team favorite at Jeffrey Field.
Her team, Valenti said on Monday, plays an important role in supporting its dancers by sending funny Snapchats or just remaining in contact. Valenti said that the team’s performance during the Pep Rally is always a comforting boost. She’ll join her teammates for their choreographed dance in 2020 as she has for the past three years, and said that dancing with a teammate ensures that there’s always a source of support on the floor.
“You know you have someone at all times,” she said.
But until Friday night at 6 p.m., Valenti will be preparing for the weekend using a relatively unchanged formula that has seen her through her past two dances. She’s kept a consistent workout schedule, holds stretching sessions with Abello at night in their apartment and cut out caffeine a month ago, though living without it was “really hard” for the first week.
As a dancing veteran, Valenti said she’s fielded several questions for first-time dancers about what to pack, how to stretch, and even how to mentally prepare for the weekend.
“Don’t think when you get there, just do everything that you possibly can, any event that they have, just do it,” she told them. “You have to take in every little moment, because 46 hours may seem like a long time, but it goes by so fast.”
Valenti said THON has allowed her to form new and lasting friendships on campus and with SAAB’s Four Diamonds families: those of Colten Buckley and Isabella Messina. But the power of a shared purpose is what has inspired her year after year.
“Cancer touches everybody. It could be a sibling, a parent, a grandparent a friend, someone you know,” she said. “I think that’s what keeps me coming back, is that something brings together all of these people, and it’s touched my life personally, but I think it’s just such a great cause to dance for that i just could not pass up the opportunity to do it three times.”
And Valenti, aware that this is her final dance but not the end of her contribution to its purpose, will be ready to experience the weekend to its fullest.
“I’m actually a little sad because it’s my last year doing it,” she said. “But I’m going to take in every single moment.”