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Why Is THON So Hard to Explain?

As a Penn State student, it is impossible to think of Penn State without thinking about THON. On the surface, talking to non-Penn Staters about THON is pretty simple. It’s a year-long effort to raise money and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer.

The year culminates with a 46-hour dance marathon. Dancers don’t sleep or sit during THON weekend until the final reveal of how much money was raised that year. People can swallow that information pretty easily.

But trying to get people outside of Penn State to understand why it is so important to us is a whole different issue. Anybody that is involved with THON knows the frustrating feeling of trying to try help people understand why we THON. We can get asked some of the silliest questions, such as:

“So like… do they literally do the tango or something for 46 hours straight?”

“When do they get to sleep?”

“Since it’s called THON does that mean you have to run a marathon too?”

“Can anyone dance?”

And if that wasn’t enough of a pain, talking to friends who go to schools that have something similar to THON might be even worse. It is amazing and humbling to hear about the work that other schools put into causes that they are passionate about, but when someone tells you, “Oh, we have that too! It’s 24 hours and we raised over $1,000,000!”, it’s really hard to tell them what we do at THON and why so many of us are involved without sounding condescending.

Even as a Penn State freshman last year, I really didn’t understand what all of the fuss was about. So you stand for 46 hours…cool? I thought a lot of people were jumping on the bandwagon because it was the cool “Penn State” thing to do, not because they actually cared about the cause. I didn’t get why so many people thought it was a big deal. Then I went to THON last year, and all of that changed. No one can ever really understand the passion the weekend exudes without experiencing it yourself. I had intended to stay for an hour or so to see what the big deal was and support some friends of mine that were dancing. I didn’t leave until eight hours later.

On my walk home I thought to myself, “Why did it take me so long to understand why everyone cares so much about this?” I couldn’t really put a concrete answer to it. In a few short hours my entire perspective on the event did a 180, and I couldn’t understand how I could think the event was anything other than awesome.

So why is it so hard to help people understand what happens at THON? It’s because THON isn’t an event, it’s a feeling; one you can’t understand until you experience it yourself. It’s like the feeling of being in love. You can talk to someone about it, tell them how happy you are and that there is no other feeling like it. How being in love gives you nerves and butterflies and makes you wanna do cartwheels and be a complete weirdo for no apparent reason. But unless that person has been in love before, will they really understand?

THON weekend isn’t just an event, it’s a being in itself. It is fluid and breathtaking. It’s multidimensional. You can’t talk about the dancers without explaining what the moralers do. You can’t talk about THON Families without talking about all of the amazing work THON organizations do. You can’t talk about THON without talking about the feeling of being there.

If you are a Penn Stater and have yet to experience THON yourself, my greatest piece of advice is simply to go. THON is free to the public and you are welcome to go at anytime (unless full capacity is reached). Bring someone from another school to THON. Bring your parents. You can’t understand THON until you feel it for yourself.

It’s the feeling you get when you find out that two of your very best friends will be dancing FTK.

It’s the feeling you get when you see the smiling faces of THON kids when they’re up on stage, and see the tears in the eyes of their parents.

It’s the feeling you get when, after the millionth time, you finally learn the THON line dance.

It’s the feeling you get when a child who has been going through chemo for months is able to run about the dance floor like nothing was ever wrong.

It’s that chill in the bottom of your stomach when the dancers sit down at the stroke of hour 46.

It’s the feeling of those butterflies that last for days after the reveal of the total amount raised for the Four Diamonds Fund.

It’s the feeling when you see that look on a child’s face when they find out that they’re cancer free.

That’s how THON feels.

About the Author

Jillian Gordon

A farm girl and a smarty pants from Eastern PA. Lover of dogs, Brand New, Kitten Mittens, sunshine and Flyers hockey.


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