STATE COLLEGE - Penn State Altoona student Katelyn Fabiano said part of what brings people together for THON is that it's hard to find someone who doesn't have a "personal tie to cancer."
Fabiano said her aunt died from cancer, and that is part of what pushes her to work year-round to fundraise "for the kids."
Penn State's annual Interfraternity Council/
Panhellenic Dance Marathon kicked off Friday evening and will end today with the reveal of this year's fundraising totals. Each year, hundreds of PSU students remain on their feet for 46 hours to raise awareness and money for the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps children with cancer.
THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, involving more than 15,000 Penn State students, and has raised more than $101 million since 1977. Last year's marathon raised $12.7
million for the Four Diamonds Fund.
Fabiano was attending THON for the first time after transfering to the Altoona campus for her sophomore year.
She said she loved the "carefree, judge-free atmosphere" of the weekend.
Alongside a large group of fellow Altoona students, who took up nearly an entire section at the Bryce Jordan Center, Fabiano said she arrived at THON for its start and spent 12 hours there.
After a three-hour nap, the students returned at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday, and planned to stay until the end.
Sitting is also forbidden in the stands, as a show of solidarity for the dancers, so all of the students will spend that entire time on their feet.
Colleen O'Neill, also a sophomore at Penn State Altoona, said the students were especially celebrating some positive news for the campus' THON child, Collin Kratzer, 5, who was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a brain cancer, at 16 months old.
O'Neill said Collin had recently received a clean MRI, so the Altoona students were treating THON weekend as "a big party for him."
Knowing that all of their hard work benefits Collin, though, is all the motivation they need, she said.
"You'd never think such inspiration could come from such a little person," she said.
She said Collin is too young to understand the scope of THON and what all the fundraising actually means, but for him it's enough to have a weekend that focuses on the positives - no hospitals, just the people that love him.
"It's just a chance to escape going to the doctors again," O'Neill said.
O'Neill said the Altoona students' preparations for this year's THON began at the end of last school year, when the new organizers met with the outgoing leaders to discuss plans. Once everyone was back for the fall semester, the students "jumped right in" to THON preparations, she said.
THON raises funds in a variety of ways, most notably through canning weekends. Students travel across Pennsylvania - and over state lines - to collect donations.
But it's THON's final push, the last few hours before the total is revealed, that really make the experience, O'Neill said. It makes "everything worth it," she said.
"As a college student, you really focus on yourself sometimes," O'Neill said. "THON allows us to focus on something bigger."
To follow along with the final hours of THON, visit www.thon.org to view a live stream.