Behrend dancers prepare for THON

Five female students hold their hands up in the symbol for the Four Diamonds Fund.

Five Penn State Behrend students -- from left, Megan Bienkowski, Grace Warsitz, Leah Kammerdeiner, Maddie Fadale and Julia Burgard -- will dance at THON on Feb. 16-18.

Credit: Photo provided

ERIE, Pa. — Leah Kammerdeiner, a senior at Penn State Behrend, is preparing for an all-nighter. She isn’t stocking up on coffee or preparing for an exam, however: She’s facing a different kind of test — dancing for 46 hours at Penn State’s 2024 IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

Kammerdeiner and four friends — Maddie Fadale, Grace Warsitz, Megan Bienkowski and Julia Burgard — will join more than 700 student dancers at the Bryce Jordan Center on Feb. 16-18, raising money for families that have been affected by childhood cancer.

“I started my preparation two weeks before,” Kammerdeiner said. “I cut caffeine, which is very hard.”

Caffeine is not permitted at THON. Neither is sitting, or looking at a clock, according to Kammerdeiner.

This will be Kammerdeiner’s second time dancing. In 2022, she was one of the youngest dancers. This year, she is the executive director of Behrend Benefiting THON.

“It was quite the eye-opener,” she said of her first experience. “It is hard to explain what it is like. It is inspiring, breathtaking, eye-opening and exciting to be there. The atmosphere is unmatched.”

She said she doesn’t expect this year’s dance marathon to be any easier.

“I am going into this as if it is my first time, and I plan to live in the moment, as if it is my last,” she said. “I have no idea what to expect this year, because it is a totally different experience.”

Warsitz, a junior, has been in the stands at previous THONs, where spectators stand in support of the dancers. She said she is taking a balanced approach to getting ready for the dance floor.

“I am going to the gym quite a bit, but not straining myself or working myself too hard, because I don’t want to be sore when I get to State College,” she said. She’s packing tennis balls, to soothe achy feet; and fidget toys, which she hopes will help her pass the time.

Fadale, a senior, also has attended THON as a spectator.

“I like to tell people that it is one of, if not the, best experiences I ever had,” she said. “Knowing everyone in that arena is there for a wonderful cause, supporting children and their families, is an indescribable, heartwarming feeling.”

Fadale said she draws inspiration from a 4-year-old cousin who died from a spinal tumor.

“I have seen what my family has had to go through, grieving the loss of a child, so I want to help in any way I can so that other families do not have to experience that loss,” she said.

Since 1977, THON has raised about $200 million for Four Diamonds, which offsets the cost of treatment for children at Penn State Children’s Hospital. Each THON group is matched with a Four Diamonds family, helping to put a face to the cause.

“They bring so much joy to our organization and give us motivation to keep fighting the fight,” Fadale said.

The Behrend group said they are excited to meet one of their THON children, a boy named Mario, and will appear with him in THON’s youth fashion show. The show is one of many stage performances, including a pep rally and a custom line dance that is performed every hour.

“The feelings you get at THON are indescribable and life-changing,” Warsitz said. “I don’t think I will ever see anything quite like it anywhere else.”

To donate to Behrend Benefiting THON, visit the team’s webpage.