Get To Know Four-Time THON Dancer, Joseph Zawacki
To most, the possibility of dancing in THON once is an honorable feat. Dancers endure 46 hours of pain, fatigue, and constant stimulation for the kids and the cure. To some this may be a “once in a life time opportunity.” Joseph Zawacki was lucky enough to have such an opportunity – four times.
A Penn State grad and current Disability Specialist on campus, Zawacki remains deeply rooted in Penn State culture. He studied Education while he was an undergraduate student, and persued Public Administration later on in graduate school – totaling 7 and a half years of studies.
Zawacki first danced in THON in 1981. Active and involved on campus, he was a particularly passionate member of fraternity Phi Kappa Theta. Because dancing on behalf of an organization wasn’t the norm during his time, Zawack danced all four times independently.
However it wasn’t smooth sailing at first. During his first THON in the White Building, dancers had to stand a full 48 hours. After hour 35 or so, Zawacki couldn’t make it any longer.
“I ended up exerting too much energy and pulled the muscles in my legs. It wasn’t the fatigue that got me, but it was pretty much impossible to walk,” he explained. Zawacki left THON in 1981 knowing precisely what he did wrong.
“Before I even left the floor I knew I was doing it again next year,” he said. “I was so close, and I knew I could do it.”
He was right. The next three THON experiences went perfectly for him. After dancing twice as a student, he danced for the remaining two as an alumnus.
“By my third or fourth year everyone started recognizing me as the guy who danced so many times before,” he said. “I remember giving moralers advice, and even massages to committee members. I was experienced and knew I could finish off strong, no sweat.”
Zawacki has been involved in the Dubois Alumni Association for 13 years, an organization that inspired him to raise the money he needed in order to dance independently.
Though the traditions and regulations for THON were different in the 80s, some aspects remain the same. For example: the touching final four hours and stories shared by those affected by pediatric cancer. Zawacki explained this was his favorite part about dancing – the inspiring and moving stories and videos shown on the floor.
“I remember hearing about a THON child who only had 6 more months to live. He shared in a video that he wouldn’t let this stop him from achieving his dreams,” he said. “On the day of THON, we found out he passed away that morning. After that experience, I made sure to bring sunglasses every time because I knew the emotions would come over me.”
Of course, Zawacki reflects on the upbeat, entertaining parts of THON just the same. He reminisces on his memorable moments with friends and fellow dancers.
“The hallucinations were always extremely interesting,” he laughed. “I remember one dancer was convinced he was a pencil being chased by a pencil sharpener!”
When asked what advice he would give to current THON dancers, Zawacki urges dancers to remember why they’re at THON in the first place.
“Above all, you are there for the kids, remember that – you are dancing for them!”
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About the Author
After losing my father to cancer, I thought there was nothing THON could offer me that I didn’t already know. After four years, I found comfort in the familiar.
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