Swayed by the cause

Students ready for 46-hour THON to raise money for kids with cancer

Students ready for 46-hour THON to raise money for kids with cancer

February 11, 2007|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

MONT ALTO, PA. - "I was in a dream," Mandy Whitsel recalled. "I heard them talking, but I could not comprehend what they were saying."

Standing for 46 hours without sleep and without knowledge of day or night, the Penn State Mont Alto student felt pain unlike anything she had experienced before.

Held up by the arms of her "moraler" who supported her and by the smiles of children with cancer, Whitsel was two hours from the end.

"From 1990 on, my parents, sometimes my sister and I would attend," said Amanda Ebersole, 19. "Every year, I would understand more what my sister went through."


Watching hundreds of Penn State students struggling to stand so children such as her sister could have the means to fight cancer, Ebersole chose to attend Penn State Mont Alto so she one day could dance for the children.

"It is amazing to see these people who care so much about children with cancer that they will endure a physical beat down," Ebersole said. "They have become my family. They are home to me."

For 34 years, thousands of Penn State University students have gotten off their feet to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund in the annual Penn State University IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon Fundraiser, aka THON.

Julie Demoss, student activities coordinator at Penn State Mont Alto, said Mont Alto has participated in THON for 10 years.

Demoss said THON is a dance marathon centered around 700 dancers from almost every Penn State satellite school dancing to raise money for children with cancer. The 2007 THON will be Feb. 16-18 at the Bryce Jordan Center and only will last 46 hours, she said.

Jawana Bachir, captain of the 2007 Penn State Mont Alto THON, said each school is allotted dancers based on the amount of money it raised the previous year.

Demoss said last year, Mont Alto raised about $10,000, so four students - Whitsel, Ravi Verma, Joseph Maiello and Sara Beletti - will dance for the school this year.

Bachir said the group has raised about $5,000 this year through canning and small fundraiser events, but that it will not know the final total until next weekend's THON.

While THON is a fundraiser and dance marathon, those who have experienced it said there is much more involved.

"You have to be there," Whitsel said. "You can't understand the power of THON until you actually experience it."

Ebersole, who has attended THON on behalf of her family for 15 years, said the building is packed with people, all standing. Among those standing are the dancers, their "moralers" who support them, students and the children and families of the Four Diamonds Fund.

"You don't have to dance the entire time, only once every hour," Whitsel said. "You just can't sit or sleep."

However, even standing for 46 hours is quite grueling, Whitsel said. She said that for months prior to the event, dancers must exercise, get proper rest and eat a balanced diet free of caffeine, high fats and sugars.

"When you stand that long, you experience some of the pain and the emotional drain that the kids go through," she said. "It is not really the same, but it brings you closer."

As the hours pass, Whitsel said participants experience nearly every emotion, and dancers might even question why they are there.

"All I would do was think of the children, look and see one their smiles, and I was reminded why I was there and I wanted to keep going," she said.

In the last 34 years, THON has raised $41 million to help children and their families fight pediatric cancer.

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