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At Her 18th THON, Ashley Otstott Continues Outreach Mission

Standing outside the THON Family Lounge in one of the BJC’s many white, gleaming hallways, Ashley Otstott stood in a swirl of color, in relief against the throngs of people passing by who sported neon family t-shirts, fanny packs, and other classic THON attire.

She was talking about Andy Grammer, who had finished his on-stage set and was visiting with families in the lounge.

“He is such a nice person and an amazing singer,” she said. “It was awesome.”

Otstott was wearing her signature THON outfit: a cape covered in Marvel comic superheroes, a silver, photo-filled locket, a rainbow tutu over jean shorts, Penn State-themed heart tattoos on each cheek, a navy fanny pack with an image of a child on an adult’s shoulders, knee-high Penn State socks, a black headband, nails painted blue and white, a t-shirt that said, “I THON for Maddie Hill and Meghan Johnson” with a yellow ribbon on the front, and a pair of plush giraffe ears on her head.

“This is my normal attire, I wear my giraffe ears for my best friend [Maddie Hill] who passed away. Her favorite animal was a giraffe, and I love marvel superheroes, so I wear this,” she said, gesturing to the cape.

“And my tutu is always a necessity,” she added with a laugh.

This weekend marks Otstott’s 18th THON. She remembers when the event was held in Rec Hall before it moved to the Bryce Jordan Center in 2006. The BJC’s floor-reaching stands, she said, are a big improvement over Rec Hall’s sky-high seats.

“Here you can talk to people in the stands down there, and just really get to know people and hang out with everyone,” she said. “To see [THON] outgrow the BJC, almost, it’s crazy to think that each year it just gets bigger and bigger, but it just means more people care about the kids.”

Otstott attended her first THON shortly after she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia two days before her fourth birthday. The Harrisburg native underwent 26 months of treatment and took her final round of chemotherapy in November 2013.

The THON and Four Diamonds community supported Otstott and her family during her treatment.

“When I was diagnosed, [Four Diamonds] was in charge of paying for all the bills that my insurance didn’t cover, so my parents didn’t have to worry about how they were going to pay for everything. They could just focus on getting me better,” she said, glancing around the hallways as more families filed to and from the lounge.

“A lot of students have just been there for me, like whenever I was going through treatment they would come visit me. Just knowing I would see familiar faces would cheer me up,” she said.

Otstott is a Nittany Lion through and through. She attended Penn State Harrisburg through her junior year, but took a break this term to evaluate her next steps and plan for the future. She continues to raise money for THON and spread the word about the organization and its mission.

“I just get the word out there as much as I can, so that people know about THON, know what we do, and how we help kids with cancer,” she said. “I am 15 years cancer-free. Now that I’m cured, I want to help as many kids as possible so that they never have to go through what I went through.”

Otstott was excited to dive into the festivities of another THON Weekend on Friday evening.

“I always like learning the line dance, even though I’m really bad at it. But I also just love getting to meet new families,” she said. “I just love being here in general. It’s like my mini-winter vacation so I can get away from everything, and just be a normal kid for a weekend.”

Then she was off down the hall, onto the next performance, hour, and line dance of another THON weekend.

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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