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THON's success rides home to DuBois, too

3/17/2006 —

On their feet for 48 hours and wearing both the bright orange to represent the Penn State DuBois team, and two-day beards, THON dancers Kyle Hilfiger and Ryan Miller made their way home to DuBois from Happy Valley Sunday night.

This past weekend, more than 700 THON dancers and their teams raised a record $4.2 million dollars. Proceeds benefit The Four Diamonds Fund, based at Penn State Children's Hospital at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, which supports children and families fighting pediatric cancer, as well as pediatric cancer research. The largest student-run philanthropy in the world, THON has raised more than $34 million since its inception in 1973.

The local dancers called the experience "emotional" and "unbelievable" as they headed back to class Monday morning. All day, Miller and Hilfiger received congratulations and hugs from their co-eds, having endured the annual dance marathon, held for the last year at University Park's "Rec" Hall. The event moves to Bryce Jordan Center in 2007.

The Penn State DuBois team received inspiration throughout the weekend from their sponsored family, Stan and Kathy Setlock of Landisville, and sons Joey and Michael. Joey has a rare form of cancer called Burkett's Lymphoma and is recovering nicely after numerous treatments at Hershey Medical Center. The whole family visited with the dancers throughout the weekend dressed in orange for Team Setlock.

"Joey is feeling so good," said his father. "He is doing a tae kwon do demonstration (during THON's variety show) and will be breaking some boards. Last April he couldn't even lift a ketchup bottle."

All weekend long, THON dancers are encouraged to keep on moving, backed up by inspirational people, team members, fun events and great music. This year 12 live bands performed throughout the weekend. Dancers learn a lengthy routine that builds off this year's theme of "Together We'll Prevail;" and toward the end, thousands cheer the dancers on to finish the last few hours over tearful testimonials and the finale – announcing the grand total.

"The experience that I had is just something I'll keep with me forever. I consider it to be the best weekend of my life," Hilfiger said. He added that until the experience of THON, he wondered why the actual dance marathon was staged because at that point, the majority of the money has already been raised.

"THON is a celebration of yearlong efforts to raise funds to help the children," Miller said. "It's also a great chance for the THON families and children to do something exciting, and for the dancers and team members, it all comes together over THON weekend. We're all a part of the big picture."

Hilfiger and Miller described the last few hours of THON as the climax of the entire event.

"You completely forgot that you were tired and sore. You were in that state of mind you were starting to become sad that it was almost over," Hilfiger said.

Physically, the Penn State DuBois men both endured some pain. Hilfiger had his arches taped after hour 28, and Miller twice saw a medic for fluid on his ankle. Despite the aches and pains, both describe the experience as "worth it."

"They wanted to send me to the hospital with two hours to go because of my ankle, but I wanted to finish. I had made it that far, and I thought of all that Joey went through, and I thought what kind of example would I be setting if I gave up now," Miller said. Even though I was in so much pain though, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

The Penn State DuBois THON committee raised more that $5,300 for THON 2006, through events such as a haunted house, rock-a-thon, bloodmobiles, pizza buffets and can collections.

"Everybody together is what makes it. Nobody stands out more, and DuBois is a part of that picture of what makes this a success. Our community helped us tremendously with that," Hilfiger said.

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