The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Community

February 21, 2014

Shenango Campus pair will dance all weekend at THON

SHARON — Meagan Hardy, a junior at Penn State Shenango, shuddered and tried to brush off goosebumps as she shared her excitement about spending all 46 hours of this weekend dancing non-stop.

Hardy will make the trek to the main campus at University Park with 12 other students for the annual dance marathon, or THON, that raised more than $12 million in 2013 for pediatric cancer patients at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital and their families.

“It’s something I’m extremely passionate about,” Hardy said. “I’m so obsessed. It’s just what I do.”

Hardy, of Newton Falls, Ohio, and Kelsey Zurawsky, of Hubbard, both 20, worked from Sept. 30 through Feb. 23 as the chairs of THON at the Shenango campus in Sharon, planning monthly charity events leading up to the THON weekend. The two are representing the local campus as its two chosen dancers.

Hardy became obsessed with the cause after her best friend’s sister – whom she calls her own little sister – died from brain tumors when she was 11. She succumbed to the cancer after undergoing three surgeries.

Hardy said the family struggled with the medical bills and eventually went bankrupt.

“I saw how this affects the family,” Hardy said. “I would gladly stand for 46 hours to take their stress away.”

Some of the THON funds are used to pay the families’ medical bills not covered by their health insurance, Hardy said.

The students participating in THON at the Shenango campus, led by Hardy and Zurawsky, raised more than $10,000 this year, surpassing their goal. They held events such as such as aluminum can recycling, a spaghetti dinner and basket raffle, and Pittsburgh Hockey tickets raffle.

“This is the most our campus has ever raised – it’s very exciting,” said Amy Evans of campus student affairs. “I wish I could take some credit for this huge milestone, but it’s all the students. Their passion and dedication to THON is remarkable.”

More than 96 percent of the money raised collectively by all campuses is deposited into the Four Diamonds Fund. The fund enables the hospital to take part in elite research programs that offer cutting-edge clinical trial phases to as treatment options for patients who might not respond to conventional therapy.

The first dance marathon was held by Penn State in 1973 and raised more than $2,000 for charity. In total, Penn State students have raised more than $101 million for the Four Diamonds Fund since the partnership began 36 years ago.

Hardy and Zurawsky were bubbling over with excitement as the reality of their planned weekend was setting in.

There will be 711 Penn Staters out on the dance floor and supporters in the audience. Everyone in the hall is required to stand from 6 p.m. today through 4 p.m. Sunday.

Events through the weekend are designed to shorten the 46 hours for them.

A family hour is one of the most important to the pair, when pediatric patients and their families outline their journey.

“The families come and tell their stories,” Zurawsky said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Supporting the girls for the duration of THON are their families and fellow students from the Shenango Campus. The students along for the ride won’t just be standing around. They planned activities such as a scavenger hunt to help wile away the hours.

“There’s lots off support,” Zurawsky said.

Hardy and Zurawsky can hardly wait for Sunday, which is when “mail call” will help them make it down the home stretch of the marathon.

That is when students and family members have written letters or prepared packages for the students.

Other events include musicians performing throughout the weekend, fashion shows and hair donations, and an hourly line dance.

“I’m so excited to go and meet the kids and hear their stories,” Hardy said.

Hardy and Zurawsky were two of four students who attended THON last year as supporters.

This year, the pair go as the dancers with 11 people there to encourage and cheer them on.

The two have prepared mentally and physically for the marathon weekend, by watching inspirational videos from THONs past and working out to build their stamina.

“I’ve been really pushing,” Hardy said. “Whenever I want to stop I keep telling myself why I’m doing this.”

Zurawsky said she was warned by some students who danced previously that it will be very painful.

“It’ll all be worth it in the end when we see the total,” Zurawsky said. “When the total was read last year ... it was very emotional.”

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