Jason Forman of Marlboro knew just how tiring it would be to dance nonstop for two days; he did it last year, and yes — his feet got really sore. But Forman, a 22-year-old senior at Penn State University, takes to heart the goal of tikun olam, repairing the world, and he wasn’t about to miss his last chance to participate in the university’s fund-raiser to fight childhood cancer.
The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, known simply as the THON, took place Feb. 19-21 — a total of 46 hours. Forman, dancing with his girlfriend, Samantha Wolff, of Stony Brook, NY, was among the 700 dancers taking part. To keep them going, they had a huge team of “moralers” providing snacks, massages, and even brief piggyback rides, so they could rest without leaving the floor.
When the event was first staged, back in 1973, it raised $2,000. This year, the total reached almost $8 million. The money goes to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center’s Four Diamonds Fund. Through 2009, THON had brought it $61 million.
Jason’s mother, Amy, stayed in an area hotel to cheer him on. She said she and her husband, Mark, have always tried to teach Jason and his two younger sisters, Samantha, 19, and Melanie, 15, to be aware of those in need and to share, but she was still awed by the spirit shown by her son and his fellow dancers. With them, sometimes on the dance floor, were many of the young cancer survivors they have helped, some currently in treatment. “I couldn’t believe the empathy of those young adults,” Amy said.
The THON, according to its website, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. So many students want to take part, those representing their sororities and fraternities can only do it once. Jason had helped manage his fraternity team twice, and last year he danced with the team. So this year he and Sam had to enter as individuals. On their own, they raised $4,600.
Already, Jason has put the lessons learned with the THON into practice. He started a philanthropy through which students can donate to charity the unused points on their college meal cards; the money goes to a community food bank.
As for all that dancing, after 17 hours sleep, he said, he felt almost back to normal, and still filled with pleasure about the achievement. “The memories are great,” he said. “You don’t think about the pain. Compared to what those children go through, what we experience is nothing.”