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THON dancers prepare for 46-hour challenge

THON 2011 Dancers
THON dancers, from left, Matt Bremy, Quanisha Smith, Danielle Zavala and Sukanya Parasher are pictured with Penn State Hazleton THON Chair Mike Pirtle. The group is preparing to head to the Bryce Jordan Center for THON 2011.

Dancing for 46 hours straight isn’t the hard part, it’s the reward for students participating in THON, the annual dance marathon at Penn State University that starts Friday evening and raises money for sick children.

During THON, the 700 Penn State student dancers, including Matthew Bremy, one of four chosen from Penn State Hazleton, mingle with youngsters from the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, their siblings and parents on the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center at the University Park campus.

A sophomore majoring in energy engineering, Bremy said the chidren will give him energy to keep dancing for nearly two straight days. “Seeing all the kids that we’re doing this for is probably what I’ll thrive on,” he said.

When children from the hospital arrive at THON, they and their families will be treated to games, food and fun that helps them forget their medical issues for a weekend. To ensure that the children have a good time and to root for the dancers, 15,000 students fill the stands and volunteer to help at THON.

That’s what Danielle Zavala of Penn State Hazleton did last year. “Once I went to THON weekend, it was a totally different experience, like it opened up your eyes,” she said. “There’s no words to explain it; but for the families, the children, it’s one weekend they can get away, and you see how happy it makes them.”

Since attending THON last year, Zavala, a sophomore from Perth Amboy, N.J., spent so much time helping to raise money for this year’s event that she was selected to dance, along with Bremy and sophomores Quanisha Smith of Boston and Sukanya Parasher of Trenton, N.J.

Although they haven’t been on the dance floor yet,  Zavala, Bremy, Smith and Parasher displayed stamina by helping a group at the Hazleton campus raise funds for THON. Students braved cold temperatures by holding cans to collect money outside local stores. “Freezing. The last three weekends – very cold,” said Smith, who spent 18 hours “canning,” as the students call it, in one weekend.

Penn State Hazleton students staged fund-raising tournaments in dodgeball, volleyball and ultimate Frisbee, held a raffle during Community Day on campus and even auctioned themselves off for dates, all to benefit the Four Diamonds Fund at the hospital. The fund pays for medical treatments not covered by insurance, supports the medical team and funds research on pediatric cancer.

Anyone can still donate online at www.THON.org, and can credit the gift to Penn State Hazleton.

“It’s the best cause I could have been part of. It’s so inspirational. It’s amazing seeing those smiles on the kids’ faces,” Parasher, a biology major, said.

Smith, who majors in energy business science, will be attending THON for the first time. “I just feel like THON is just an awesome organization, and it’s run by students who have really big hearts to change a child’s life,” she said.

To prepare themselves for non-stop dancing, the students have been going to the gym to build up their strength. They’re counting on good music to charge them up when their feet begin to drag. Zavala hopes to hear “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga. Smith will have friends text messages of encouragement to her every hour. Parasher and Bremy anticipate the line dance, a musical year in review to which the dancers learn the steps and perform hourly.

They all expect to draw more strength from their families, friends and fellow students who will journey to University Park to cheer them on. So many students from Hazleton want to attend that there is a waiting list for a seat on the bus to THON.

Last year, THON raised $7.8 million, with the Hazleton campus contributing $27,000.

Penn Staters have made THON the largest student-run philanthropy in the world and raised $69 million by continuing to dance for the past 38 years. Now that’s a marathon.

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