Ren ready to dance; 46 years of THON

By on February 14, 2018

Because the floor at Bryce Jordan Center has a capacity of about 700, not everyone who wants to participate in THON is able to do so, and dancers are chosen by virtue of how much they or their organizations have done for THON over the years.

This coming weekend, more than 700 Penn State University students will be going without sleep for a continuous 46 hours as they dance for “THON,” the annual fundraiser for cancer research that has become a tradition at the State College campus.

The frenetic event marks the 46th year of THON, famous for the dance marathon, which lasts from 6 p.m. Friday to 4 p.m. Sunday. It’s a test of endurance that brings in big money for a worthy cause.

THON last year raised $10 million for the Four Diamonds fund, the charitable organization based in Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, according to Maddy Hughes, media relations captain for Penn State.

THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, and the money raised goes to cover treatment costs as well as cancer research.

“The proceeds go to medical bills, gas, food vouchers, whatever the family needs,” Hughes said. “Families who have children with cancer never receive a medical bill in the mail.”

A full 94 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to the Four Diamonds fund, Hughes said.

“It is definitely exciting,” Hughes said of THON.

Trying to keep the dancers awake will be the really exciting part, she added.

While they won’t actually be dancing continuously, they will be on their feet for the entire time.

In previous years, Lititz native Andrew Ren, a senior at Penn State, went to THON in support of the dancers, and the families. “But this is my first year to dance,” he said.

One of those “long standing” students will be Lititz native Andrew Ren, 21, a son of Baolute and Xiaohong Ren.

Andrew is a senior at Penn State, majoring in electrical engineering, with a minor in mathematics.

“Dancing is somewhat of a misnomer,” Ren said. “Most of it is just being on the floor and participating in activities. There will be a lot of fun going on.”

For part of the time, parents and kids who are THON families will be at the Jordan Center, too, and dance participants will do crafts or coloring books or even have water pistol fights with the kids.

“Obviously, they aren’t going to be there the whole time,” Ren said of the youngsters.

A massive line dance is also scheduled, and is a highlight of every year.

To prepare for the marathon dance, Ren has been working out more, including endurance training and five-mile runs. He’s also being careful with his nutrition, and cut out all caffeine at the beginning of the year.

“I definitely think it’s going to be a challenge, and obviously, I’ve never done anything like this before,” Ren said. “It’s going to be mentally as well as physically challenging, but I know there will be a lot of support.”

Ren is a member of the Schreyer Honors College Student Council and has been involved in the fund-raising process for THON for the past few years, he said.

He feels honored this year to be chosen as one of the dancers.

“In previous years, we, as an organization, would go to THON to support the dancers, and the families, but this is my first year to dance,” Ren said.

Because the Bryce Jordan Center at State College has a capacity of about 700, not everyone who wants to participate in THON is able to do so, and dancers are chosen by virtue of how much they or their organizations have done for THON over the years.

Some of Ren’s friends have also been chosen as dancers, so they’ll have plenty of time to catch up as the weekend progresses.

“After talking to other dancers, they said it was the fastest 46 hours of their life,” Ren said. “They recommended that we keep moving around, keep the blood flowing.”

Prepared meals have been donated by local restaurants, and the dancers stand at tables to take their meals.

Plenty of water and electrolyte replacement drinks will be on hand, with designated helpers bringing drinks to the dancers as the hours wear on.

“They recommend that we have a regular sleep schedule, so I’ve been getting a ton of sleep beforehand,” Ren said.

Other than wearing loose clothing and comfortable shoes, there’s not much else you can do to prepare for the dance marathon, he said.

“I am personally really excited to be a part of this,” Ren said. “It’s an awesome way to have a culmination of a year of fund-raising, and it’s 700 people all there for the same cause.”

THON began in 1973 as a fundraiser for a few beneficiaries, but in 1977, the focus was changed so all the proceeds from the marathon dance would go to the “Four Diamonds” fund, Hughes said.

“THON is really cool,” Ren said. “It’s not only financial support, but there’s a personal side to it, and interaction with the families.”

When Ren considers THON and its efforts, he thinks of Tyler Miller.

As a child, Tyler, of Elizabethville in Dauphin County, was diagnosed with leukemia. Now a high school student, he is cancer-free thanks to new medications and innovative treatments and can look forward to a bright future.

The members of Schreyer Student Council have been paired with Tyler’s family for a number of years, and Ren met Tyler when the boy was a middle school student.

“When he was undergoing treatment, about six years ago, we were there,” Ren said. “Now he’s finished with treatments and he’s very healthy. It’s really amazing, seeing him grow.

“So many children every year are affected by cancer and no family should have to hear that word,” Ren said. “I’m excited to be a part of this, because one day, we’ll have a cure.”

Marylouise Sholly is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback at


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