Penn State's annual 46-hour no-sitting-or-sleeping dance marathon ended Sunday afternoon and raised a record $13.34 million for pediatric cancer research and to provide support for patients and their families.
A jam-packed arena of students, pediatric cancer patients, survivors and their families welcomed the announcement of the record for the annual THON fundraiser, which broke last year's record of $12.37 million.
Officially called the Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, the event is billed as the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Students dance — and remain upright — on the floor of the school's Bryce Jordan Center to raise money for the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.
With Sunday's total, students have raised more than $114 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital since 1977.
For Monica Bryson, the weekend was a chance to escape the challenges cancer has brought to her family.
Bryson's 2-year-old son Cooper has a brain tumor. Bryson and her husband, Matt, 33, stood next to their son's medical stroller equipped with oxygen tanks and filled with bags of medicine Saturday afternoon. Cooper receives daily chemotherapy treatments.
"Even when we're having a really rough day, we know that a million students and people are rooting for us and to end childhood cancer," said Bryson, 30, of Hershey.
"Getting paired with the Brysons was an amazing experience," 21-year-old dancer Julie Graham said. "Watching them go through what they have for the past four months makes dancing for 46 hours a piece of cake."
The majority of dancers were relieved as the 46 hours whittled down. Sore feet and fatigue are inevitable during the weekend. But their fellow students provided remedies behind the scenes, like foot massages and piggyback rides.
New Penn State football coach James Franklin also pepped up the crowd Sunday afternoon
"I can't tell you how proud we are to be a part of this community now," Franklin said. "Trust me.. we are going to win a bunch of football games, but more importantly we're going to make a positive difference in this community."
Organizers attribute the increase in fundraising to more national attention the event has received in recent years. More than 15,000 students participated in fundraising efforts and about 3,500 students volunteered to run the marathon throughout the weekend.
Part of the money is raised on out-of-town trips on weekends, when students stand on street corners and outside of businesses and ask for donations. Other fundraising efforts are made throughout the THON weekend.