UNIVERSITY PARK — In 2012, Amelia Pietraccini lost one of her best friends to cancer. Since then, she’s been doing everything she can to help fight the disease.
Pietraccini, a graduate of Dallas High School, along with a handful of students and families from the Wyoming Valley, are participating in this year’s Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, affectionately known as THON. The 46-hour dance marathon began at 6 p.m. Feb. 19 and runs through Feb. 21 at the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus. More than 700 student dancers will be on the floor, on their feet, for the entire event.
THON isn’t just a three-day event. All year long, funds and awareness are raised for the fight against pediatric cancer. Since 1977, THON has raised more than $127 million for the Four Diamonds at Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey.
For Pietraccini, a senior at Penn State, the event hits close to home. In 2012, she lost a close high school friend, Corey Ehret of Dallas, to cancer. Ehret endured a three-year battle with embryonal rhabdomyo sarcoma before passing in July 2012.
Pietraccini is dancing as part of the No Refund Theatre for the first time. When she heard the news she had been selected, she said it was the best feeling in the world.
“I think I cried for an hour,” she said. It’s something that I always wanted to do and it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Previously a Dancer Relations committee member, Pietraccini has been involved with THON back to before she came to Penn State.
“It feels great to finally do something to give back to the THON community,” Pietraccini said. “We can make it into a celebration. I always wanted to do this in (Corey Ehret’s) memory.”
Following Ehret’s passing, Pietraccini started a mini-THON at the Dallas High School. And this year, Ehret’s twin brother, Christopher, is dancing for the first time.
Christopher Ehret is a member of the Science LionPride club and is the Family Relations Director. He is not only dancing in his brother’s memory, but for two other families dealing with pediatric cancer.
“Standing on my feet for 46 hours is nothing (like my brother) went through,” he said.
Ehret is a senior at the main campus studying Pre-Medicine.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for quite some time,” he said. “I’m excited and nervous at the same time. It’s exciting to give back and spread awareness of childhood cancer.”
Deckman family ties to THON
The Deckman family, of Mountain Top, is a previous beneficiary of THON. Michael and Lori’s son, Caleb, has been cancer-free for seven years. When he was diagnosed in 2008, Caleb attended his first THON. Since then, the family has attended THON on a yearly basis.
“Being a part of THON is an amazing experience and it’s something that’s hard to describe,” Lori said. “I describe it through tears. The feeling you get being surrounded by thousands of Penn State students – you know exactly what they are going through.”
Caleb, now 13 and a student at Crestwood Middle School, was part of the THON variety show for the first time last year. He, along with his father, played a pair of songs for the crowd. Caleb learned how to play the drums when he was first diagnosed with cancer. The family has a music background and recently composed a song for THON as part of this year’s theme: #CancerCannot.
Caleb is part of the Athletic Training Club at THON and will be back on stage this year.
“I like doing it because I like what THON supports and what we’re doing it for,” Caleb said. “The place is so awesome and I love my organization. I just really like what they are supporting. They are helping kids fighting cancer.”
Allardyce is a captain
Tom Allardyce, a 2012 graduate of Pittston Area, is in his third year on the THON Rules and Regulations Committee, serving as committee captain this year. The Rules and Regulations Committee is in charge of all security at the Bryce Jordan Center during THON weekend.
Allardyce put in 20 to 25 hours per week leading up to THON and will be at the Bryce Jordan Center for the duration of the weekend. His responsibilities are simple: “We plan all security for all THON events throughout the year,” he said.
Allaydyce knew he wanted to get involved with THON since his cousin was diagnosed with cancer at age 2. For the past 10 years, his cousin has battled the disease.
“When I got here, I knew I had to get involved with it,” he said of THON. “I would have never imagined it would shape my Penn State experience like it has. It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before.”
Over the course of the three days, Allardyce doesn’t have much time to stop and take it all in. However, his family will visit him and he will get to see them for a few minutes. He said it’s not about him so he’s not concerned about taking a breather.
“I’m not there for myself,” he said. “The main goal is to make sure families are having a great weekend.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick