STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – A 46-hour, no-sitting-or-sleeping-allowed dance marathon at Penn State raised more than $12.37 million for pediatric cancer research and care, shattering last year’s record-breaking total by nearly $1.7 million.
The announcement delivered by student organizers to more than 700 dancers and thousands of volunteers, along with cancer patients and their families, concluded the weekend-long IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon at 4 p.m. Sunday.
The event commonly known as “THON” is billed as the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Counting Sunday’s total, students have now raised more than $100 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital since 1977.
Suzanne Graney, director of the fund, called $100 million a “spectacular” milestone.
“When you think about all of the families who are able to be helped with $100 million, it’s staggering, enabling us to take care of their medical bills,” Graney said. “That allows us to direct significant resources towards research in finding a cure.”
Students transformed the Jordan Center, home of Penn State basketball, into a high-energy dance party. Many wore neon T-shirts, balloon hats and makeshift colorful jewelry and medallions.
The mood turned solemn in the event’s final hours when parents of pediatric cancer survivors and those who lost battles with cancer told stories of their children. Video montages of cancer survivors and victims played on jumbo screens as students wept and embraced each other.
The Jordan Center, which has a seating capacity of 15,200, was filled nearly all weekend. By Sunday morning, university police asked people waiting outside in cold temperatures to return home after doors to the packed arena were closed.
About 15,000 students are involved in year-round fundraising efforts, and about 4,000 volunteers help dancers and put on the show on THON weekend. Organizers attribute the increase in fundraising to a growing number of student volunteers and increased publicity of the event.
For Stephanie and Randy Miller, THON is a way to remember their daughter Kyla, who passed away from brain cancer in 2007, just two days shy of her 10th birthday.
Dressed in a purple T-shirt with buttons and pins commemorating her daughter and other children who lost their lives to cancer, Stephanie Miller line-danced and sang along with others on the crowded floor.
“We come because THON keeps us close to her,” said Miller, 43, of East Berlin. “As time moves on, a lot of things change. People can leave your life, the places you used to take your kid to go out of business. THON never changes.”
For 22-year-old Megan Rohrbaugh, THON is an annual tradition. Rohrbaugh was diagnosed with cancer when she was 4, but she has been cancer-free for years.
Rohrbaugh, a psychology student at Lycoming College, stood on the dance floor, holding 6-year-old Morgen Johnson in her arms. Though years separate them, the two formed a close bond through THON and cancer. Both Rohrbaugh and Johnson were diagnosed with tumors on their kidneys.
“To know that there are people out there to do this for kids like me is so amazing,” Rohrbaugh said of her appreciation of the charity.
Dancers get pep talks throughout the weekend, too. Football coach Bill O’Brien pumped up the crowd for three hours until dancers could sit down.
“In my opinion, this is the greatest university in the country and in the world. And it’s because of this thing right here,” said O’Brien, who was welcomed with roars of applause from the crowd.
Despite sore feet, dancer Laura Brodner was energetic early Sunday while dancing to a Nicki Minaj song. Her beaded necklaces swung across her shirt as she clutched a water bottle she used to stay hydrated.
The university will hold classes Monday, which many sleep-deprived THON participants may forgo.
“I hope I just don’t fell asleep on my way back to my apartment,” said Brodner, 21, a Penn State senior majoring in accounting. “My goal is to get myself in bed.”
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)