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Record-Breaking Total Caps Off ‘Persistent’ Year For THON

Despite the many challenges thrown the organization’s way, you probably couldn’t have written a better story for THON 2022 than what played out at the Bryce Jordan Center this weekend.

Following a fully virtual fundraiser in 2021, the annual dance marathon returned to an in-person format as THON formally crossed its 50th anniversary. And once the dancers sat and confetti fired Sunday afternoon, THON 2022 revealed it’d raised a record-breaking $13.7 million For The Kids, smashing 2014’s previous single-year high of $13.4 million.

“It was the 50th THON, and we wanted more than anything to be back here. We persisted, and we found a way,” THON 2022 Executive Director Kate Colgan said Sunday afternoon. “I think that persistence then translated into our fundraising efforts. I think that was the spirit we collectively took on this year, that we were pushing forward and finding a way. It’s kind of just stars aligning and things just building off of each other.”

THON’s fundraising efforts jumped out to a strong start back in Penn State’s fall semester. During the organization’s fourth annual “Dream Forward” campaign, THON raised a whopping $1.05 million to kickstart this year’s total. The 2.5-week fundraiser smashed THON’s $600,000 goal and raised nearly $400,000 more than last year’s campaign.

After factoring in THON 2022’s total, the dance marathon has now raised more than $200 million to support pediatric cancer research for its sole beneficiary, Four Diamonds at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

This year, THON planned around the clock to bring its dance marathon back to the Bryce Jordan Center where it belongs. Months after announcing an in-person THON 2022, the organization rolled out a full slate of COVID-19-related precautions. Among them were required vaccinations for dancers and some volunteers, fully required indoor masking, and mandated testing for thousands during THON Weekend.

While reflecting on THON 2022’s conclusion on Sunday, Colgan said the challenges of planning this year’s event were symbolic of THON’s greater mission.

“I’ve always been someone who’s pretty persistent — sometimes frustratingly so, if you ask my parents,” Colgan said. “This organization just embodies persistence. To me, it’s full circle. This organization is persistent in the fight against childhood cancer. Then, what happened this year, was persisistence in the persistence in the fight against childhood cancer. It’s kind of poetic in a way.”

Overcoming challenges is a consistent theme for THON and Four Diamonds. The name “Four Diamonds” originated from an essay by co-founder Charles Millard’s son, Christopher, which was written shortly before his death. In it, he told a story of a knight’s quest for four diamonds — courage, wisdom, honesty, and strength — needed to defeat an evildoer.

Millard, a beloved and lifelong THON supporter, visited every dance marathon until his death in November at 93. Depsite his absence, his spirit — and the mission behind Four Diamonds — lived on throughout THON 2022.

“Finding a way to eliminate childhood cancer is the goal,” Four Diamonds Executive Director Suzanne Graney said. “We don’t know when that goal will be reached, and we have to continue to find a way and use all of those diamonds [from the children’s story] as resources to keep us going.”

Perhaps the largest challenge thrown THON’s way this weekend was largely out of the organization’s hands. To avoid potential COVID-19 spread, THON said only Four Diamonds families whose children are not actively receiving treatment could visit the Bryce Jordan Center — a choice that likely required many to watch from home.

Still, THON organizers said “the kids” were always placed at the forefront of decision-making. THON 2022 Public Relations Director Nolan Marett said his team would regularly read families’ stories and watch videos during weekly meetings to remind everyone who THON is really for.

“We’re doing this for a bigger cause than ourselves, and these kids need us,” Marett said. “We’ll be here for them.”

THON’s proverbial motto — “For The Kids” — was plastered on countless t-shirts, signs, marketing posters, video clips, and more this year. Heck, it’s even in the line dance.

Even 50 years later, that overwhelming emphasis on Four Diamonds children is no coincidence.

“One of the things that is so strong in THON and so special in THON is being rooted in those three words [“For The Kids”],” Graney said. “That guides decisions and guides inspiration. For us, it also guides the work that happens back at the hospital — how those dollars are going to be used, making sure that we’re being careful in how we spend those dollars…to help as many children as possible.”

“Really, that is our favorite goal,” Graney continued. “That we find that day we all get to just celebrate that no child ever has to shop up in a hospital emergency room and hear that they have cancer.”

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email (mattdisanto86@gmail.com) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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