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Family Ties To Cancer & THON Fuel Local THON Dancer’s Passion

For Penn State senior Julia Neely, State College has always been home. By growing up in town, she’s watched THON grow right in front of her own eyes. But now, she’s finally getting a new perspective as a THON 2022 dancer.

Neely wasn’t always set on Penn State. Like many others who’ve grown up in State College, she considered getting out of town and going somewhere else to begin a new adventure. So, she spent one year at the University of Delaware but noted that the atmosphere didn’t come close to Penn State.

“This atmosphere [at Penn State], was kind of what I expected from every school. I expected every college to be more or less essentially obsessed with itself and have this insane school spirit,” Neely said. “I realized I couldn’t find that spirit anywhere else. So, I came back after my first semester of freshman year and realized I’ve grown up a Penn Stater, and I wanted to spend my college experience being a Penn Stater.”

Neely’s earliest THON memories began when she was around 5 years old. Sixteen years later, she’s back inside the BJC as a dancer herself.

“I had a babysitter for my sister and me because my parents both worked, and she was a Penn State student. She was actually a dancer one year, and we went to THON Weekend to watch her dance,” Neely said. “I remember getting there and realizing how much fun it was and how the atmosphere was just amazing. Everyone looked like they were having the time of their lives.”

As a member of the Penn State Crossfit Club and Alpha Omicron Pi, Neely’s involvement in THON has only grown over the years.

“This year, I decided with one of my best friends, Amy, who is also my roommate, that we were going to try and be an Independent Dancer Couple,” Neely said. “We talked about how we’ve always wanted to dance in THON, and there was a moment when we looked at each other and were just like, ‘Let’s just go for it.'”

Neely and her IDC partner, Amy Ronin, experimented with a few different fundraising efforts to try and raise as much money as possible. They hosted events like pumpkin painting, a smores and movie night, and a 46-mile running challenge. The support from friends and family has been instrumental in supporting the duo as they tried to achieve their biggest dreams.

Neely said ever since she found out that she was selected to dance, she’s been riding that high of excitement ever since. The moment was especially meaningful for Neely, who is dancing in support of her father who was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer years ago.

“He’s still with us, and he’s doing great, but that was definitely a pivotal moment in my life. I remember my mom and dad sitting my sister and myself down and telling us, ‘Dad has cancer,'” Neely said. “From that moment on, I haven’t wanted anyone else to experience a moment like that. I think that was probably one of the scariest moments in my life, and I can’t even imagine when it’s a child who is diagnosed. That definitely fuels my passion for wanting to be so involved in THON.”

In addition to splitting her time participating in THON with Penn State Crossfit and AOII, Neely also is involved with Camp Kesem, which helps support children who are dealing with a parent’s cancer diagnosis. Although there are a few differences between Camp Kesem and THON, the main purpose of both organizations remains very similar. They help support families affected by cancer, raise money for cancer research, and fight for a cure.

“They’re both very similar [Camp Kesem and THON] in the way that you almost can’t put into the words the beauty of both organizations to someone who hasn’t been a part of it,” Neely said. “They have both left such a huge impact on my life, and I think both Camp Kesem and THON are two parts of my college life that I’m really going to miss after this year.”

Throughout the weekend, Neely said she’s most looking forward to all of the moments that make this dream of hers actually feel real. From standing up for the first time to receiving visits from her family, it’s a surreal weekend for someone who has grown up in State College and seen the magic of THON over the years.

Always in her heart and mind, Neely’s dad will also be supporting her and joining her on the floor at various points this weekend. It’s a heartwarming reminder that THON really is, all about family.

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a senior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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