Matt Zanellato Trying To Make An Impact In The THON Community
His time at Penn State is already like no other, but this weekend, Matt Zanellato will add one more chapter to his story when he becomes the first football player since Shane McGregor to dance in THON.
Zanellato said he realized he wanted to continue helping the cause early on, during his freshman THON. With athlete hour, the Make-A-Wish program and Lasch Building tours, and the pep rally, he was hooked and wanted to get more involved.
“I kind of realized there was so much more the football team could do for THON,” he said. “At Penn State, the two biggest things in my opinion are Penn State football and THON. I thought, ‘There are so many things we can do to get them to work more together.'”
He said he tried to dance as an independent dancer couple with Deron Thompson his junior year, and didn’t get picked. “It’s a crapshoot, you don’t know how many people get it. It’s a complete lottery,” he said. Last year, there were five athletes vying for three dancer spots given to the Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), and he was one of the odd men out.
This year, he made sure his dream came true by raising more than four times what he had in previous years. Zanellato raised almost $17,000 on behalf of SAAB, and said the Penn State football fan base rallied behind him to help raise money. “There was a group called the Penn State Football Nation that donated between 50-60 checks that totalled almost $11,000, so that was a huge help. That’s Penn State for you, a lot of people helped out,” he said.
Despite being a self-described “retired athlete,” Zanellato has made sure to stay in shape to physically prepare for the grueling weekend. He’s worked out — as recently as this Monday — and plans to “sleep, carbo-load, and stay hydrated” in the days leading up to THON. But emotionally, he’s made sure to reach out to his family, friends, and coaches for support.
“I made sure I called Spider Caldwell and told him he has to come by and see me,” Zanellato laughed. “I know my family is coming up, and this will be their first experience with THON. They always knew I was involved in THON, but they haven’t actually seen it for themselves…I’ve immersed myself in the THON community and I’ll have a lot of support. I’m really looking forward to it.”
But when it comes down to it, Zanellato knows what the weekend is about. Not the money, and not him, it’s about the kids.
“Personally, nobody in my family has been affected by pediatric cancer. I’ve been blessed so far, but I’ve met a lot of families along the way,” Zanellato said. He named two families specifically who brought good news in the last few months as his inspiration. The Charlie Beecher family just hit the five-year cancer free mark, and the Gavin Howe family, who just finished chemotherapy after almost 1,100 days.
“Those two experiences in the last few months mean more than raising $17,000 does to me.”