Hard to believe it's been twenty years, but on the last weekend of February 1988 I got to live out one of my dreams. As far as dreams go, it wasn't a big one. I didn't change the world or anything, although I like to think I might have changed someone's world. At least a little.
The event? The Penn State Dance Marathon. Affectionately dubbed:"The Thon."
My very good friend, the inestimable Philip Pastino, danced my freshman year, and when I went to cheer him on and I saw all the hundreds of people dancing all night and the little kids they brought in during the wee hours, the ones with no hair and brilliant smiles, I remember thinking, I need to do this! Here was something bigger than myself and my small little college world. It became my dream. It was one of the first times I remember wanting to do something that seemed beyond me, deciding I wanted it badly enough to overcome the obstacles, and then seize the day.
Here is me, living the dream:
I don't remember what time this was taken, but I smiled the same after 48 hours. Deliriously so, but all the same, I was livin' the dream.
Of course, you have to have a partner, so I dragged along my unwitting and enthusiastic friend Shawn. He, however, was not smiling so much at the end. It is a miracle to this day he is still my friend.
The Thon is a 48 hour dance marathon in which hundreds of college students cram into a gym on a Friday night (after a full day of classes) and dance, or at least keep moving, until Sunday night. Everyone that dances goes through an application process and raises money to help families with children with cancer. When I danced, it looked like this:
This year, 708 students danced to raise money. They're dancing in a much better facility. I don't know how much more has changed since I danced, but this is what I remember:
1. You cannot sit down. Or lean. They roped off the perimeter with police tape to keep us from escaping, or from leaning on the walls, but if they spotted you taking a rest against a Gatorade table you were politely but firmly told to get your keister up and dance.
2. You had scheduled bathroom breaks... like one every eight hours or something insane like that. And they sent you in in groups of six: the same number of bathroom stalls. You had three minutes. And if you didn't take all that time you came running out and slid down a set of blue gym mats and people dragged you to the end, threw baby powder all over you (I thought because it felt good, but probably so they didn't wretch at the stink of us) and gave us a massage until the three minutes were up. Heaven!
3. Every two hours or so we did a line dance that had been made up specifically for this Thon. Our was to Train in Vain by The Clash. It was great fun at the beginning. You know, the first twelve times. After that it was really, really annoying. Now hearing that song just makes me my feet hurt.
4. We had organized party games, like Duck Duck Goose and Wheelbarrow races. These are hilarious when you are punch drunk giddy from fatigue.
5. Hallucinations. Serious ones. Ones that even today, although my head knows they are hallucinations, I am still not completely convinced they aren't real.
6. We all knew when it was 2 am because people poured in after the bars closed to watch us like animals in the zoo. If they brought dry socks or candy we forgave them for smelling like beer and being all perky and awake.
7. We "carbo loaded" for a week before, eating every morsel of pasta we could find in effort to prepare for the energy that would be required. I still lost seven pounds that weekend.
8. When they brought the kids in on Sunday morning, their favorite thing to do was squirt water in our faces. We loved it, not because it woke us up, but because the smiles on their faces when they got us were priceless.
It's a remarkable event. There is nothing like it, and if Penn State were in the vicinity of... well... anything, I'd tell you to stop by some year and see it for yourself.
It is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Twenty years ago we raised over half a million dollars, an astounding amount that smashed all previous records. This year the Thon raised over 6.6 million dollars for families with children with cancer. It benefits the Four Diamonds Fund in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and over the years cancer survival rates for children at the Pediatric Cancer Pavilion at the Penn State Children's Hospital have gone from 30% to almost 90%. The history of this marathon is phenomenal.
Being a part of this was one of my proudest moments, for doing something I really wanted to do, seizing the day and the dream, and helping, in some small way, to make a difference in the world.