Student-Run Dance Marathon Raises Millions For Charity
They stayed awake and upright for 46 hours straight - and it's all "for the kids."
On Friday, over 700 students decked out in spandex, glow sticks and sweatbands descended on the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State University in University Park, PA. They weren't there for a rock concert, but to take part in THON – a 46-hour dance marathon to benefit the charity of the same name.
THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world and has raised $168 million in more than 40 years. On Sunday, the students announced that they added another $11.69 million to that grand total, over a million more than they raised last year.
Penn State's mascot, the Nittany Lion, gets the crowd pumped at THON 2020. Penn State/Facebook
THON's mission is to enhance the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer. By providing emotional and financial support, spreading awareness and pitching in funding for critical research, the charity gives hope to families and children who are battling the illness.
The non-stop dance marathon is the annual culmination of THON's hard work. And while it's one of the most anticipated events of the year on campus, it can be exhausting for the close to 1,000 volunteers who take part. They are awake and standing for almost two days straight, after all.
"My feet are tired. My eyes are tired. The last couple hours have been an emotional roller coaster," Julia Duemler, 21, told a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer at about 2 a.m. Sunday. "Emotions are running high, especially with my dad."
Students, volunteers and families filled the seats of the Bryce Jordan Center for the start of this year's THON. Penn State/Facebook
Many taking part in THON do so for personal reasons, including Duemler, whose father passed away from colon cancer ten years ago.
Other students and volunteers have actually benefitted from the charity in the past and are there to return the favor.
Brady Lucas, one of the dancers, had leukemia as a child and now works as a gift officer for the Four Diamonds charity, THON's beneficiary.
Lucas says his real-life experience with Four Diamonds makes him the perfect person for the job.
"When I can look them in the eye and say the reason that I'm alive today is because of organizations like this; it's a powerful and captivating reason to give," said Lucas, 23.
While most of the dancers made it all the way through the marathon this year, there were first-aid teams in place to keep a close eye on everyone's health.
"Every single dancer is watched over the whole weekend," Regina Duesler, the executive director of THON, said. "If their health or safety is at stake, we sit them down."
Massage stations were set up to give students some relief, and the dance floor was covered with special, "anti-fatigue" matting which eases the impact to the dancers' muscles and joints. Trainers from the school's athletic department helped the students stretch and provided ice bags as needed.
Two volunteer dancers take advantage of the stretching equipment. Jean Might/Facebook
Each dancer was even assigned a "dancer morale" volunteer who watched over them for the entire marathon to monitor their well-being and made sure they got any prescribed medications they needed.
Even with all of the muscle pain, soreness and fatigue, the dancers mostly took it all in stride and were smiling until the very end. For them, it's worth it, because it's all "for the kids" (that's THON's motto).
"When you're really down, you go to the middle of the floor, you take one circle, one look around the Bryce Jordan Center, and you just remember why you're doing this," student Sarafina Valenti said. "That's what gets you through."