The Hope Express is an annual 135 mile marathon completed in 24 hours as a tribute to THON and the Four Diamond Families. A group of 54 runners make up this year’s team, carrying messages from the Four Diamonds children that can’t make it to the Bryce Jordan Center. According to the Hope Express website, “The THON Express was born, based on the Pony Express that ran tirelessly from point A to point B just to deliver a message, so will the Express runners carry those messages from the kids in Hershey to the dancers in State College!”
Founders Hank and Connie started the organization after they attended THON in 2006 while their son Gabe battled Leukemia.
Sarah Boyer, a Penn State 2010 grad and THON 2009 dancer was an alternate runner until about 10 a.m. when she woke up to a missed call asking if she wanted to run.
“I didn’t pick it up initially, because I was sleeping,” said Boyer. “I had a missed call, voicemail and a text, so I figured someone was trying to get in touch with me.”
Boyer was a part of one of two hope teams, whose members run about 10 miles total in three mile legs. There is one extreme team that runs about 18 miles total in 6 mile legs.
Danielle Stemple, class of 2008, is another hope team runner who is no stranger to THON. Stemple was a moraler for two years and a hospitality captain for another during her Penn State career. Looking for ways to stay involved in the fight against pediatric cancer, Stemple joined Hope Express.
Her favorite part? Forming relationships with even more Four Diamond Families.
“Getting to connect with other families is a really special part of staying involved after THON,” said Stemple.
It’s easy to spot Hope Express runners by their colorful leggings, which are revealed after the runners pull off their warmup pants on the Four Diamonds stage. Turns out, these aren’t any ordinary leggings, but roller derby skins. All the patterns are neon, distracting, and very colorful. The runners don’t have input on what colors or patterns they get: it’s a surprise.
“We don’t find out what our leggings look like until we get them during runner’s weekend,” said Stemple. Runner’s weekend is a retreat for the runners that takes place in Carlisle, Pa a few weeks before THON weekend.
The Hope Express raised $94,860 last year. Their total this year will be revealed on Sunday.