Penn State York sends three dancers to this weekend's THON

The Nittany Lion signals the diamond to the audience during the 2017 THON dance fundraiser.

Three students from Penn State York will represent their campus this weekend at THON — an annual 46-hour dance marathon fundraiser to support pediatric cancer research.

Kelsey Haines, 20, is used to doing 12-hour mini-thons, but this weekend will be her first time dancing for the full 46 hours.

"I just have to keep telling myself, 'you can do this,'" she said. 

Though she doesn't have any particular dancing strategy, she said organizers will teach a line dance that everyone does once an hour, and there's plenty to do besides dancing.

Dancers can visit and play with children battling cancer; make toys for kids in the hospital, play games; do puzzles, coloring and crafts and even see a surprise popular musical artist — as long as they stay on their feet.

"I've just wanted to do this for a long time, so I'm ready," she said.

Haines will join Justin Neal, 19, and Yaribeth Ocasio, 19, along with more than 750 other dancers who committed to staying on their feet all weekend.

Kelsey Haines, 20, (left), Justin Neal, 19, (center) and Yaribeth Ocasio, 19, (right) were chosen by Penn State York to represent their campus at Penn State's THON, a 46-hour dance marathon to support the fight against pediatric cancer, from Feb. 15-17. (Photo: Barbara Dennis)

THON: The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, also known as THON, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, according to the fundraiser's website.

Students raise money all year for the three-day event, held this year Feb. 15-17 at the Bryce Jordan Center, the university's stadium in College Township, Centre County.

This year’s theme is “Shape the Moment” — the idea of being in the moment, making it great for the kids and shaping their futures, Haines said.

More:Locals help THON raise $10 million for pediatric cancer

More:Penn State York THON dancers include cancer survivor

Proceeds go to the Four Diamonds fund, which supports pediatric cancer research and pays medical expenses not covered by insurance for childhood cancer patients at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

The first THON was held in Penn State's HUB Ballroom in 1973 — a 30-hour effort with 78 dancers — and the event has now raised more than $157 million to date.

Penn State York's representatives were chosen based on their yearly spirit points, which they earn through fundraising events and other THON activities, spokeswoman Barbara Dennis wrote in a news release.

The campus also sponsors Autumn Foller, 15, now in remission from a 2012 leukemia diagnosis, Dennis added. 

Touched by cancer: Each of this year's Penn State York student dancers has a personal reason for participating in the marathon, as all of their families experienced a loss from cancer. Neal lost his mother to cervical cancer when he was 10 years old, and Ocasio lost an uncle to prostate cancer.

Neal had a family member who'd previously danced for THON, so he made it his goal to earn a spot, leading the blood drive with the American Red Cross, among many other events, during the year.

Haines, a former student at Dover Area High School, joined the community in rallying around Dover student Maddie Hill, who fought cancer three times before losing her battle in 2016 as a Penn State York student.

Haines helped lead the campus THON committee this year, along with senior Thalia Splawn — who also beat childhood cancer, Haines said.

Penn State York organized fundraisers such as dine-outs, a poker tournament hosted by cancer survivor Jimmy Clark, an American Red Cross blood drive and chocolate and popcorn sales.

Ocasio is participating in the committee for her second year, this time serving as treasurer. 

All three dancers will have family members in attendance this weekend for support, and Ocasio's parents — who are currently deployed in Cambodia and Germany — will be supporting her through phone calls and letters.

The marathon begins at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, and ends at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17.

To support Penn State York's dancers, donate at Donations will be credited to the campus and added to the University Park total.