Those who take on the challenge of standing for 46 hours usually make one main wish for THON Weekend — common dancer wishes include taking a photo onstage, receiving a visit from a loved one, or shaving his/her head FTK.
This year, one dancer’s wish was to find a way to meet her longtime idol — Sue Paterno. When it finally happened, the moment was everything she had ever dreamt of.
Senior and THON 2017 dancer Briana Duffy has bled blue and white for as long as she can remember. In fact, her entire family has loved the Paternos from the start — Duffy’s parents have always aimed to teach her what it means to live life with honor. “My dad is a huge JoePa guy and always coached my sisters and my teams, just like Joe, and instilled the same values in us that Joe did here at Penn State,” Duffy said.
It was no surprise that she decided to carry out her college career at Penn State years later. And when it came time for Duffy and her boyfriend Mike Paradise to choose a last-minute couple’s costume for Halloween last year, Duffy couldn’t think of a greater idea than to dress up as the Paternos themselves. “Here Mike and I were five days before Halloween last year, and I suggested it to him,” Duffy said. “He was iffy at first, but I was very persistent!”
Duffy and Paradise simply decided which era of Paternos they wanted to be and which photo of the couple they wanted to attempt to replicate. Luckily, they already happened to have some clothes pretty similar to the ones the Paternos wore in the famous shot of the couple standing together at Beaver Stadium, along with a pair of nearly identical glasses lying around. Once they got started, the costume itself turned out to be pretty easy to make.
“I put orange and red hair paint in, and he put on replica glasses and that was it,” Duffy said. “It was just a little difficult for people to tell who we were when we weren’t together, more so for me than him.”
When Duffy became a senior a year later, she decided to try her luck at the THON 2017 dancer lottery. To her surprise, her fundraising effort paid off. THON notified her that she’d officially be taking to the floor for 46 hours in THON 2017. When it was time to register and write down her dancer wish, the decision was easy — Duffy’s ultimate dream was to meet the woman who had inspired her not only to pull off the ultimate Penn State-themed Halloween costume, but to be a better person throughout her entire life. However, she knew the wish was pretty far-fetched. “I had no idea if she would even be [at THON]or when,” Duffy said.
But little did Duffy know — she was in for the surprise of her life by the time the weekend finally rolled around. After Pep Rally Saturday night, Duffy and two of her friends headed to the back section of the floor to stretch. While they were stretching out their arms, one of Duffy’s friends accidentally knocked into a woman behind him. The students quickly apologized to the passing woman, but their mouths dropped once they realized who she was.
“As she got closer to me, I gasped and put my hand over my mouth,” Duffy said. “It was Sue Paterno. I was unable to speak to her, I was in awe.”
When she finally realized what had just happened, Duffy ran around the floor and told everyone she knew about the surprise encounter, asking if anyone had seen Paterno and might know where she had gone. Now that Duffy knew her role model was actually in the building, she was determined to meet her for real this time. Duffy’s older sister was able to snag a floor pass, and shortly after, Duffy’s friend texted her saying he had seen Paterno near the stage. The moment she opened the text, she sprinted.
“As soon as I saw her, I could not contain how happy I was,” Duffy said. She and her sister quickly asked if they could take a photo with Paterno, and Duffy could barely process what was happening. Luckily, she remembered to pull up the photo she thought she’d never have the chance to show her — and the reaction was priceless.
“Her jaw dropped and I had tears in my eyes. She said, ‘That is amazing!’ and she couldn’t stop smiling,” Duffy said.
Duffy could tell Paterno’s family was on a tight schedule, so she quickly hugged her and thanked her for everything her family had done for the Penn State community over the years. The encounter was all Duffy needed to motivate her for the rest of the weekend.
“Even though I was awake for 40 hours at this point and remember very little of conversations that happened after Pep Rally, meeting Sue is something I will never forget,” Duffy said. “I can finally cross meeting Sue off my Penn State bucket list!”