Students reflect on experiences at Penn State’s THON

LEWISTOWN – A 46-hour no-sitting no-sleeping dance marathon might sound like an exhausting feat, but two Penn State students from Mifflin County are remembering it as a positive experience.

“You really didn’t have time to think about being hurt or tired, it was just fun,” said Katie Bridgens, graduate of Indian Valley High School. “I didn’t want it to end.”

Bridgens was one of more than 700 student dancers participating in the annual Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, held last weekend at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park. The annual event was the culmination of the university’s year-long effort to raise financial support for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The fund benefits Pennsylvania families whose children are being treated for cancer.

Rachael Ziegler, also a graduate of IVHS, said it was her third year of involvement with the philanthropic event but her first as a dancer.

“Being on the floor was an amazing experience,” she said, adding that the event was overwhelming at times.

From seas of supporters dancing in the stands to Four Diamond families and children lighting up the dance floor, Bridgens described the atmosphere in the BJC as electric.

“Everyone’s happy and dancing and smiling and cheering … it’s nothing like a concert or a basketball game,” she said. “It’s just so much more. It’s really powerful … everyone’s there for the same reason.”

Bridgens and Ziegler represented the Student Nutrition Association and Hershey Kisses for the Kids, respectively. Both organizations rally support for their own Four Diamond children. SNA partners with Corbin Potter and family, while HKFTK partners with Ellen Smith and family.

Though event coordinators try to keep dancers’ minds off of the hours that remain ahead of them, Bridgens and Ziegler said they were at least generally aware of the time.

“I could tell what day it was and usually if it was day or night, but other than that, it was pretty hard to tell,” Zieger said.

Bridgens called herself a “weird dancer” because she kept track of the hours.

“You could tell what time it was based on people in the stands,” she said, explaining that night time was hardest on the dancers because many spectators and the THON families went home.

Ziegler said she found herself looking forward to the line dance, which is a song and dance created and performed annually by THON morale captains. The lyrics feature topics from PSU, current events and pop culture. The line dance is performed many times throughout the weekend.

“It kind of got everyone back on the same page and got everyone moving,” she said.

Ziegler found that it was more difficult to stand still, so she kept her feet stepping at all times.

“I thought it would be really, really hard,” Bridgens said about spending 46 consecutive hours on her feet.

But as long as she kept moving, kept eating and carried a water bottle at her side, she said she didn’t hurt as much as expected. The hardest part, she said, was when her dad was unable to make it onto the floor because of a busy floor-pass system.

“He came down to the closest seating so I could yell up to him,” she said.

Throughout the weekend, dancers enjoyed activities to keep their bodies moving and exhaustion to a minimum.

“The entire weekend was memorable, but the part I will really remember is when they revealed the final total,” Ziegler said.

As people of all ages watched from within the BJC or via live webcast, students raised posters high in the air to reveal the record-breaking number – $13,343,517.33 “for the kids.”

” … We had beat last year’s total by $1 million,” Ziegler said. Her organization contributed $22,869.65 to the cause, and Bridgens said SNA raised about $15,000.

“It’s amazing … it’s life-changing,” Bridgens said, describing the experience. “It’s going to always be something close to my heart.”

She encouraged the public to attend the event in the future. She said it is free to come and go throughout the weekend.

Bridgens and Ziegler thanked their families, moralers and friends for their support.