Without a doubt, THON (Penn State’s IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon) became so much more than a single weekend each year while I attended Penn State (2014). I couldn’t believe that there were hundreds and hundreds of people willing to stand for 46 straight hours to raise money for pediatric cancer. But the more incredible fact was that this philanthropy wasn’t raising pocket change here and there, their annual totals were in the millions of dollars, yes a $1 followed by six 0s. THON affects so many children’s and families lives, along with the countless amounts of others involved, that it is actually unfathomable. My connection with THON started way back in 2007, when my sister Lindsay danced in THON. She was involved in THON her entire four years, but it was the year she danced that really made an impact on my life. Witnessing firsthand the magnitude of that weekend as a kid, opened my eyes the selflessness and dedication that these college students had for an amazing cause.
In my senior year, I was privileged to represent my fraternity as one of their dancers in THON 2014. Dancing was a goal eight years in the making, well before I was accepted into Penn State. And the weekend was finally here. All the weekends spent canning across the northeast, the countless hours spent in the stands supporting dancers each of the prior years, it was finally my chance and I was going to embrace every single second of those 46 hours. I can recall nearly every moment of that weekend like it was yesterday. After we were corralled in the multi-sport facility, we made our grand entrances into the BJC like an NBA all-star team coming out of the tunnel and onto the court. The stands were filled with THON organizations, club teams, and Greek life, and everyone was on a stoke level that was registering off the charts.
THON weekend became this experience, unlike anything I could have imagined from the stands, or my brief visits onto the floor to see the dancers. The biggest, and most memorable part, was interacting with all the kids and their families. These kids have gone through more pain and suffering during their cancer treatments than is even imaginable, but you would never know it because this weekend is for them and their smiles are from ear to ear. Being able to talk with the parents and families of the kids throughout the weekend, you get to listen to their stories and how THON has impacted their family for the better. To know the Four Diamonds Foundation has made it their priority to make sure these families never see a single medical bill while their children are battling the awful disease, until the day we find a cure.
46 hours flew as quick as a happy hour at the Phyrst. I can still picture all the talented music acts and dance performances that took place on the stage, throughout the weekend. Even though my feet were in a great deal of pain before the clock struck midnight during the first day, I couldn’t help but dance the entire time. The music, live and DJ’d, are really the lifeblood of the weekend, without the music we all would look like a bunch of zombies way sooner than imaginable. All the talent and performances build up to the weekend’s final four hours. When those last bands come out on stage, the energy level in the BJC explodes through the roof. It’s a musical experience that rivals some of the world’s best music festivals. Maybe it’s the state of exhaustion and delirium that all of us were in, but I can still hear the chants of “We Are Penn State” that Go-Go Gadget led in those final hours.
Of course there was the super soaker wars that never ended, leaving your shirts constantly cold and soaked, yet with an accompanying smile at the same time. Throughout the weekend there, subway sandwiches were being put down one after another, followed by an endless amount of Gatorade. But there was one meal that I’ll never forget, given to me by my buddy Brian late on Saturday night. It was heaven wrapped in an oil stained brown bag, with a Jersey Mike’s logo on it. Even though this Club Supreme sandwich was the best thing I’ve ate all weekend, unfortunately it led to the strangest part of that weekend. I began to hallucinate for the next two hours. I had been pretty aware and awake all weekend, up until that point. I felt like I was in a dream-like state, where all my conversations were fake and didn’t really exist. I would start conversations, and immediately walk away from them as if they didn’t matter. I floated around the dance floor for most of the time and could not recall where I had walked to or who I had talked to. Thankfully around 4:00AM, I finally digested the big sandwich and was able to come to my senses. But it was a wild ride for sure that I hadn’t ever experienced before, but I wasn’t the only one who went through this by any means.
As the weekend came to a close, we counted down the seconds, and boom. 46 hours had flown by and we were sitting again. But only for a few seconds before we were back on our feet, eager to witness the annual total that we’d raised during the 2014. One by one, the cards flipped up into the view of the crowd. First the pennies, 3…3, then the dollars began to show, 7…1..5. One by one, the flipped upwards faster and faster until the total was revealed.
The crowd erupted. Everyone jumping in the air, hugging, high-fiving, screaming, you name it. The energy, in an arena where people haven’t slept in days, was incredibly unbelievable. I still cannot believe we raised over thirteen million dollars to benefit the Four Diamonds Foundation that will eventually go to finding a cure for cancer and all the families that are affected by this awful disease.
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.