My Journey with THON
Hi! My name is Leeana Gretsky and I am a sophomore Elementary Education student at Penn State Schuylkill, and acted as a Fundraising Chair for Schuylkill Benefitting THON during the 2019-2020 school year.
My journey with THON began my first year as a Schuylkill student. As a freshman in a club where I knew very few people, I was both nervous and intimidated by the groups of people who seemed to have known one another, and had been a part of THON, for years. So, what was I doing there? Did I have a genuine reason to be a part of an organization I knew existed, but knew little about its function? Little did I know what opportunities and connections being a part of this organization would give me.
THON is so much more than a “club”; THON is a family, a large group of the most caring, kindhearted, and incredible individuals, and the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. During my two years as a member of Schuylkill Benefitting THON, I have made life-long friendships with complete strangers, connected with members of the Penn State Schuylkill community, and had the amazing opportunity to dance in THON 2020--an experience I will cherish forever.
Why I THON
Joining THON, I felt that I didn’t have a real reason to be there. I had family members and family friends who had battled various kinds of cancers, but had no “link” to pediatric cancer. “That’s what THON is all about, right,” I thought, “to bring awareness to childhood cancer?”. This was my mindset throughout the first few meetings I attended on campus. However, the more I learned about what THON actually does for its families, my views on the organization changed--we weren’t just raising money and awareness, but we were changing children and their family’s lives.
When I attended my first THON weekend in 2019, I was speechless. The energy in the Bryce Jordan Center at any given time during the weekend was insane; even at three in the morning, the stands were full of supporters cheering on their dancers, blowing bubbles and shooting water guns, and dancing along to different musical performances throughout the 46-hour dance marathon. This weekend was also the first time I was able to meet one of our THON families, the Pulaski’s, and our warrior, Devin. The famed Final Four, or final four hours of the weekend, was full of tears, hugs, laughs, and an enormous amount of love. Through spending my weekend in the BJC, I finally realized why I THON: for a cure, for Devin, and For The Kids.
Why Penn State Schuylkill THONs
During our first few meetings this past school year, Schuylkill org members had the opportunity to share with their peers why they joined Schuylkill Benefitting THON. Through this ice breaker, many people stated their reason for joining was that cancer had affected their lives in some way, whether it was through a family member, friend, or themselves. Those who didn’t have a reason quickly found one during a dinner we held on campus to allow new members to meet our org’s families. Devin was the star of the show, and showed no shyness around complete strangers. Her and her family attended various Schuylkill events, such as Schuylkill Haven’s Halloween parade, our line dancing fundraiser, and No Hair Don’t Care. The Executive board was able to celebrate Devin’s birthday with her at the Hershey lights, and attended the Hershey Bears THON hockey game with another one of our wonderful THON children, Trey, where we were able to meet up with the Pulaski’s as well! It is safe to say that Penn State Schuylkill THONs for all kids affected by cancer, but mostly for our very own kids, to whom we view and love as if they were our own younger siblings.
Attempting to put into words the affects that being a member of THON has had on me is next to impossible. In short, THON has had an incredibly positive impact on my life. Volunteering to help at the different fundraisers for Schuylkill Benefitting THON my first year as a member, my assumption was that the money we raised would go directly to the Four Diamonds children to cover the cost of their treatments; boy, was I wrong, and truly didn’t know how much THON helps the families as well. At the end of THON weekend, after the total is revealed, a breakdown of what that money will go towards is showcased on the jumbotron’s in the BJC. This past year, the nearly $11.7 million that was raised helped fund the following:
- 7,798 weeks of psychological counseling
- 58,485 days of nutritional therapy
- 16,246 days of out-patient child life support
- 4,679 weeks of lab experiments
- 7,798 weeks for a team to manage all patient needs
- 11,140 weeks of prescription drug co-pay coverage
This is THON. Not just the paying of treatments, but the care and support for every child facing pediatric cancer. THON weekend gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with so many amazing org members and THON families from different Penn State campuses. Attending the dance marathon for the past two years also enabled me to hear the stories of families whom I never met, but felt connected to for those 46 hours in the BJC.
My Experience as a Dancer
I had the amazing opportunity this past February to dance in THON 2020 alongside three of my closest friends: Ian McGowan, Vraj Patel, and Eric Thompson (who I am naming because they also deserve big credit for being on the floor with me that weekend). After waiting for what felt like forever in Holuba Hall across the street from the BJC, it was time to go through the human tunnel. Cheers of encouragement, hugs, high fives, and a lot of running goes into the human tunnel as you enter the floor of the BJC. After getting settled, it was time to stretch. And I mean stretch. For at least an hour and a half. This was it; this was the moment my friends and I had anticipated for months. Typing this now, I still can hear the words “stand up!” reverberating in my mind, and feel the excitement and energy of the entire BJC jumping up in the stands and on the floor. Water gun fights, stretching sessions with my wonderful moralers, constant hydration and snacking (about 10 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were consumed throughout the weekend), dancing around with my family, waving to the org, and so many hugs and tears are what I remember most about that weekend.
However, Saturday evening into Sunday is when I felt the most self-doubt about completing the weekend. I was jumping up and down to keep myself from falling asleep standing up, my calves had swelled significantly, and every few steps I took I had to stop to stretch myself. I even vaguely remember refusing piggy backs until the Final Four. After the last performance of the weekend, where I danced as if I hadn’t just been standing for 46 hours without sleep, I just about collapsed on the floor with my friends by my side. We had done it. Through the pain, the tiredness, and all of the emotions, we did what most people would think is crazy to do. Being a dancer during THON is an experience like no other and flew by faster than we thought it would. Despite the lows of the weekend, if you asked any one of us to dance again, we would in a heartbeat. I am very thankful to have danced with the people I hold closest to my heart, and am anticipating the next time I get to enter the BJC for THON weekend. FTK, always.
Cover photo: Picture taken before Stand Up, back row-left to right: Johnny Bonker - Dance Relation Committee Member, Vraj Patel - Dancer, Eric Thompson - Dancer. Front Row - left to right: Leeana Gretsky - Dancer, Ian McGowan- Dancer 2020.