Later today, the 2012 Penn State IFC Panhellenic Dance Marathon (known to many simply as THON), the largest student run philanthropy in the world, will come to a close. For those us of you who may not know, THON is a yearlong effort to raise funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer. But the most well-know and longest-running THON event is the actual 46-hour dance marathon.
Back in 1993, I danced in THON as part of Phi Sigma Pi, a coed national honor fraternity. A good friend of mine, who was born the very same day that I was, had recently died from cancer, and I really wanted to participate in THON for "Big Al." However, having never pulled an all-nighter in my life, I had no idea how I was going to stay awake and standing for 48 straight hours (not sure when THON removed two of the hours!), on top of the hours I would have already been awake before the event began that Friday night. But I figured if Al and so many others could suffer through what they did, I could make it through one weekend.
And I did.
It was such an amazing, exhausting experience. I cried, I laughed, and I danced, along with 539 other dancers that year (you don't have to dance, but you MUST remain standing the entire 48 hours, save for any bathroom trips). By Sunday morning, I was in bad shape. In fact, I had started to hallucinate, imagining I kept seeing my boyfriend (at the time) walk through the doors of the White Building over and over again. Eventually he did show up, but I could not yell across the floor for him; my voice was nothing more than a squeak at that point. Yet somehow he managed to see me through the crowd, and I had the strength to get through another 10 hours. The line dances and massages also helped.
Nineteen years later, over 700 dancers, 300 captains, 3,300 committee members and 15,000 student volunteers participate in THON, which now takes place in the Bryce Jordan Center, which has a capacity of over 15,000. THON has gone from giving $100,000 to the Four Diamonds Fund in the '70s to over $9 million last year. I cannot even imagine what it must be like today, though I have been able to keep up with it thanks to the Internet, something that barely existed back in the Dark Ages, when I was in college.
In these final hours, I will be thinking of the dancers, the volunteers, and especially all the kids and their families who are and have been affected by childhood cancer.