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Not Your Average THON Dancer: The Nittany Lion’s Unique THON Experience

Senior Zach Sowa donned the Nittany Lion costume one last time over the weekend while dancing in THON and reprising his role as the Symbol of Our Best. Throughout the weekend, Sowa had a very different THON experience than most students. After all, not many other students were, at times, the center of attention like the Nittany Lion was.

This was Sowa’s third THON as the Nittany Lion, but he has been involved in THON since high school. His school did a Mini-THON that was only 12 hours long.

“I always really loved that; we did very well. We had a very small school, but we consistently raised a lot of money,” he said. “I had a small exposure to THON in high school until my freshman year when I came to Penn State, and it was the real deal here with the full 46 hours.”

While Sowa was in costume, he was able to split his time between appearing on stage and interacting with people at the BJC. He made time to do so about 15 minutes before dancers stood and in the half-hour after the Lion was on stage. In addition to performing several line dances on stage, Sowa also performed with Cash Cash, Go Go Gadget, and Daya.

Sowa didn’t spend all 46 hours as the Lion. When he was not in costume, he actually spent his time as one of the 707 dancers. He ended up only being in costume for 13 to 15 hours. Sowa’s longest stretch in costume was five hours. Otherwise, it was pretty much split up into 1-2 hour stretches.

“I wanted to do more than half, but dancing was much harder than I expected it to be,” he said.

Out of all of the experiences that Sowa has had as the Lion, he said that THON 2020 was definitely his most physically demanding, due to his role as a dancer when he wasn’t in costume.

“Dancing was very difficult and very strenuous,” he said. “It was very physically demanding, and I have to shout out my DRCM’s for keeping me alive: Liv Flores and Kaylin Fussel.”

The hardest part for Sowa was during the Pep Rally as he was about to do the 46 one-armed pushups.

“That many one-armed push-ups is usually no big deal for me, but, having never danced before during THON, I have never done it after standing for 26 hours straight.”

He questioned whether or not he was gonna make it, but the energy of everyone in the BJC chanting the number of pushups helped him feel like it was a “piece of cake.”

In addition to dancing, Sowa also helped fundraising for THON with Beaver Stadium Mic Man Eric Gaspich and their “$7k in 7 days” campaign. The group printed 77 shirts with “$7k in 7 days” written on the front, as well as the donor drive link and QR Code on the back. The campaign turned out to be very successful.

At the time that donations were counted, Sowa and Gaspich raised $48,725.27, which was the highest for an independent dancer couple. They actually had a few thousand more dollars come in on Sunday after donations were counted.

“That’s really what matters,” Sowa said. “We raised a ton of money for the kids, and we did our part to make the biggest impact we could. We capitalized off the platform we had, and that was our duty.”

This was Sowa’s last appearance as the Nittany Lion, and he went out in the best way for him to go.

“I could not ask for a more perfect final event as the Lion,” he said. “Between making the impact that I did as a dancer, and fundraising as well as we did, and between the total being as high as it was, it was all just perfect.”

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a sophomore accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the Rangers, Jets, Mets, and any Penn State athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Penn State and Rangers content.

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