Penn State York students to dance 46-hour THON this weekend
Jennifer Taylor remembers the feeling of being in the stands at THON last year watching hundreds of students take on the final fundraiser of the biggest student-run philanthropy in the world: a 46-hour dance marathon to support children battling cancer.
Despite the long hours — Taylor attended one day from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. — the morale among more than 750 dancers was still going strong.
“Everyone was in good spirits the whole time,” she said, bolstered by a pep rally with singer Andy Grammer — known for his uplifting messages in hits such as "Keep Your Head Up" — and hearing from families of survivors.
"It gives the dancers another purpose," she said of the families' speeches. "'Why am I here, why should I continue?'"
Now Taylor, 19, will take on the challenge herself as one of three dancers chosen to represent Penn State York at the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, this weekend, along with Paige Barlow, 18, and Alvin Chen, 19.
THON will run from 6 p.m. Friday to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State University's stadium in College Township, Centre County.
"It was a very emotional week," Taylor said of finding out she was chosen. The sophomore lost her uncle to prostate cancer a few years ago and saw her mother become a skin cancer survivor.
"Earning that huge privilege to be a dancer kind of took my breath away," she said.
Since 1977, THON has raised more than $168 million for the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports families of childhood cancer patients by filling in funding gaps that insurance doesn’t cover.
“It’s really important because my family went through a lot of financial struggles when my mom was battling cancer,” said Barlow, a freshman majoring in genetics and developmental biology with hopes of becoming a pediatric oncologist.
Her father found it difficult during that time nine years ago to support three children, then ages 3, 9 and 18, while working extra hours to cover medical bills, she said. Her mother was on a medication that cost $50,000 a month, in addition to chemotherapy.
Without insurance, her medical care would have cost more than $8 million over three years, Barlow said.
Along with the dance, Penn State York students hold fundraisers all year to support THON — which they've been doing for more than 20 years.
A favorite among students this year was “Poker with Jimmy,” in honor of a Penn State York graduate and cancer survivor who had his leg amputated. The school also sponsors Autumn Foller, 16, who is in remission from her 2012 leukemia diagnosis.
This year, Penn State York students raised more than $15,800 — surpassing their $13,000 total last year, said college spokeswoman Barbara Dennis.
This year's THON theme of "journey together" is fitting for students such as Chen, Barlow and Taylor, who were able to be a support system for friends and family with cancer.
A Central York graduate, Chen decided to get involved in his high school's 12-hour mini-THON when a friend’s little brother was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. Doing THON was also part of the reason he chose Penn State.
Chen said he doesn’t know what to expect dancing at THON as a freshman this year, joking that “12 hours is nothing compared to 46.”
To donate to the dancers, visit donate.thon.org and specify Organization No. 170. Checks made payable to THON and sent to the school must also note the organization number, and they are due by noon Thursday.