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Jovana Marzella Dances In THON 2024 To Honor Best Friend & Hometown

Growing up in a 4,000-person township an hour and a half from State College, senior chemical engineering student Jovana Marzella always valued a sense of community and belonging.

When she committed to Penn State at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and plenty of uncertainty in 2020, discovering her niche was a priority.

Marzella fell in love with sailing after discovering the activity alongside her older sister in Florida and knew continuing her passion for the sport would serve her well in college. She reached out to Club Sailing, which was hosting virtual meetings due to the pandemic, and jumped into the organization as a freshman.

Inspired by the mission of THON and its connection to her hometown of Ridgway, Pennsylvania, and her best friend, Chloe Frank, a pediatric cancer survivor, Marzella quickly worked her way through the ranks of Club Sailing’s THON leadership and committees as a volunteer.

“When people hear about the stories, I’ve seen them get a little bit more involved in THON, and they can see the ‘why’ a little bit more clearly,” Marzella said. “I know that was something for me.”

Marzella became Club Sailing’s Junior THON Chair, Family Relations Chair, and ultimately the team’s Primary THON Chair her senior year.

Though she joined Club Sailing with minimal interaction or connection with the team’s Four Diamonds family, the Mckenna Voss Family, because of the pandemic, it didn’t matter because Marzella was eager to unite with Mckenna and her siblings to share their story and fund their care.

Mckenna received her final dose of chemotherapy for her acute myeloid leukemia in 2018, but the family’s story didn’t end there. After Mckenna rang the bell, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, followed by Mckenna’s younger sister Gus.

All three members are cancer-free after treatment, but the impact of the Voss family’s story motivated Marzella to uplift THON’s pursuit at every opportunity.

“Being able to bring a little bit of hope and joy into that challenging journey and letting them know that they’re not alone, letting them know that they have something to look forward to even though they’re going through so much is really important,” Marzella said. “I think reminding people of that has been inspiring them to get motivated and giving them a ‘why.'”

Any chance to spread the story of the Voss family and her hometown best friend Frank gave meaning to Marzella’s mission. Though Marzella and Frank became friends following her pediatric cancer battle, Marzella remembers the camaraderie displayed in Ridgway to support Frank.

In that way, THON made Penn State feel smaller and provided Marzella with the community and comfort she was searching for.

“I think that’s something that relates to THON and translates to my hometown,” Marzella said. “It was amazing to see the whole town fundraising and looking out for her family in so many ways… I think that’s where a lot of my desire to help others has stemmed from because I grew up around that amount of kindness.”

As a THON Rules and Regulations committee member in 2023, Marzella had the opportunity to showcase the 46-hour dance marathon to Frank and strengthen their already powerful bond in a new way.

“Seeing how much people care means a lot to her,” Marzella said.

Dancing on the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center was the culmination of a lifelong conflict with pediatric cancer as a friend, fundraiser, and volunteer.

“I think the community aspect is important, and it’s just magical overall,” Marzella said. “I think that little fact of people wanting to do good and be a part of something that is bigger than themselves is super powerful and contributes to the kind of magic that THON can create.”

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About the Author

Keeley Lamm

Keeley is a junior journalism major from Richmond, Virginia, and is Onward State's managing editor. She also talks about awesome stuff on our podcast, Podward State. Keeley is a lover of grilled cheese and Kevin Jonas. If you'd like to share your thoughts on the superior Jonas Brother, feel free to contact her on Twitter @keeleylammm or send your best joke to her email [email protected].

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