Beavercreek grad Kaitlyn Buell said that she “is very bad at dancing,” but that didn’t stop her from strutting her stuff in this year’s THON at Penn State.
The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. THON is a year-long effort that raises funds and awareness for the fight against childhood cancer, a cause that is very close to Buell.
“I had some classmates and friends that had cancer,” she said. “Some beat it and have led great lives. Some of them didn’t. I was able to see both sides of the impact of cancer on the child and even the community.”
Buell didn’t think she was going to go to Penn State after graduating in 2020, but after a campus tour, she was sold. While starting during the pandemic wasn’t ideal, she eventually was able to participate in campus activities.
Buell was athletic in high school, playing soccer and running track. At Penn State, she decided to join the Penn State Crew. The Crew is a rowing team and competes in regattas with other schools in the northeastern area.
“It’s a club team. I enjoy it. I’ve never had any experience with rowing, but I figured I like trying new things. I tried it and now I’m totally invested,” she said.
It was through the club team that she was chosen for the THON.
Groups on campus get to vote on who they want to participate in the annual event. Three of about 45 were picked from the rowing team. Getting chosen to be part of the THON is a major achievement, but it’s also a very challenging event.
“It was on my bucket list. I’m so glad I got to do it. Once I was picked, I knew that sitting down wasn’t even an option. It was strenuous,” she said.
According to Buell, participants don’t have to dance the entire time. When the THON first started, it was 100% a dance marathon. Now the event is 46 hours long and participants cannot sleep or sit down the entire time. Every hour dancing does happen with line dances that they can boogie to.
“There’s a committee of kids who look at world and pop culture events to create the line dances. It’s super fun. Not only do you move your body every hour on the hour, but it’s fun to reflect on the events of the year,” she said.
Buell was joined by two other Crew members from the men’s team. Buell said it was nice to have them there and friends to cheer them on while they stayed awake. In order to prepare for the event, Buell said that she did a lot of sitting.
“It sounds cheesy, but it’s mostly mental. The cause of raising money for childhood cancer means a lot to me. No one was doing this for themselves. I took the week before to reflect on why I wanted to do it. Physically, I did a lot of sitting on Friday,” she said.
Four Diamonds is the group that is the sole beneficiary of the THON. The money is raised for Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. Buell said that during the event, many of the kids who have received funds come to dance and celebrate with participants.
“Sometimes you’re chasing a kid around at 4 a.m. It’s just another great way to see how everything we do pays off. Just to know that you are tangibly making a difference for someone is a powerful and encouraging feeling. Many of the kids are young and don’t fully understand, but they are excited to be there,” she said.
Fundraising happens all year and during the THON weekend. There are pep rallies and a talent show featuring the kids. Donors can go online and send in money during the event. This year, Buell said that they broke the school record last year and then again this year. This year they raised $15,006,132.46 for the year, exceeding last year by over $1 million.
“The number reveal at the end. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s one of those feelings you cannot communicate. That’s a solid chunk of change,” she said.
Buell won’t be participating in the THON next year, as she wants other members of her team to able to have the same experience. She will be there to support others as well as help on the finance community. She was on the committee this year as well.
Buell plans to graduate in 2024 with a degree in kinesiology with minors in psychology and rehabilitation and human services. She’s currently deciding on a concentration in her major and she said she will possibly pursue a graduate degree. Either way, she knows she played a major part in an event that has helped many kids.
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