Penn State York THON dancers include cancer survivor

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

A few local students are gearing up to join hundreds of other dancers from across the country this weekend for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, better known as THON.

Penn State York students Paulina Martinez, Thalia Splawn and Casey Dierdorff are preparing for a weekend full of dancing at the annual THON dance event in University Park, Pa.

The world's largest student-run philanthropy will commence its annual 46-hour dance event at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, and end at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College.

At last year's THON event, Penn State raised more than $10 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, bringing its four-decade fundraising total to more than $146 million.

The three students from Penn State York selected as campus dancers have connections to THON as varied as the kaleidoscopic environment they will witness under the BJC dome.

They are a nearly lifelong fundraiser through mini-THON, a student who just got involved after starting college and one student who received the assistance she’s now about to champion.

That last student, Thalia Splawn, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a cancer of the blood and bone marrow — when she was 4 years old.

Splawn went in remission four years later and has been cancer-free since 2011.

She now says it is a full-circle moment to get a chance to dance and cheer in solidarity with children who were in a similar situation.

Penn State York THON dancers Casey Dierdorff, Thalia Splawn and Paulina Martinez have altered their diets and increased their exercise in preparation for the 46-hour dance event.

“I was grateful that I’ve been (offered) the opportunity to give back to everybody that danced for me,” she said. “It’ll be interesting being on this side of things.”

This year's THON is the last one with any inclusion of funds raised by canning, when students danced and cheered at intersections with cans to collect donations from drivers. The practice was phased out last September.

Splawn said she will miss canning, but the elimination of the fundraising format has provided a way for member students to be more creative in the way they raise funds for Four Diamonds.

This past year, some fundraising events for Penn State York benefiting THON included a benefit concert, an all-donation poker tournament and a talent show.

More:As canning ends, Penn State York's THON looks to music, poker

More:THON talent show

In stark contrast to Splawn, fellow dancer Paulina Martinez, a sophomore studying forensic science, had no involvement with THON before her membership in the Penn State York THON group.

People hold up numbers Sunday representing the total raised during the annual dance marathon known as Thon at Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pennsylvania. Money raised benefits pediatric cancer patients and their families at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Instead, she heard about the organization through word of mouth and online videos of the annual event in State College.

The faces on the young children and the testimonials of fulfillment by member students made her attend a meeting, and she never stopped, she said.

Casey Dierdorff, a sophomore at Penn State York, will also dance all weekend long.

Whether with Penn State THON, at mini-THON as a York Suburban student or at the Ronald McDonald House in Hershey, Dierdorff has spent much of her life raising money for children with cancer.

Seeing the strength of people such as Penn State York student Maddie Hill and East York Elementary School student Ayden Kohler — both whom died after battling cancer — made her all the more passionate to continue raising money, she said.

All three students said they have altered their diets and increased their time exercising in preparation for for the marathon event that will include no place-swapping or resting time.

It will all be worth it in the end since it is — as Splawn, Martinez, Dierdorff and thousands of other THON members current and former say — “For the Kids.”