Penn State raises $9,770,332.32 for THON 2016

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WPVI) -- THON 2016 came to a close Sunday with students at Penn State raising a grand total of $9,770,332.32.

The annual dance marathon began at 6 p.m. Friday and ended at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pennsylvania.

The event is billed as the world's largest student-run philanthropy. This year's theme is "Believe Beyond Boundaries."

"(How does it feel right now?) Amazing. It feels awesome. We just stood for so long, raised so much money, really excited," said Anna Carmody, dancer.

"There's tons of emotions. I'm excited, I'm happy and proud," said Jamie Scott, dancer.

"You're happy, you're sad, you're upset that you wish you could help more people," said McKenzie Gary, dancer.

After 46 hours on their feet, a countdown led to the moment the 700 hundred dancers got the chance to finally sit down or, in some cases, lay down.

Each hour was a test of will. As the minutes ticked to the end, students fought fatigue, but the emotional stories of survival and loss to cancer helped them soldier through.

"Seventeen years ago, my parents were told I had leukemia. Seventeen years later, I am on this stage in front of 17,000 people who are fighting the same fight that I did," said Ashley Kaufman, cancer survivor.

"It really kind of motivated me for those last couple of hours to really put that extra work in for families to make sure their family members are not forgotten," said Montana Stigger, dancer.

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The kids help the young men and women of Penn State, who have been on their feet without sleep for more than 30 hours, get through their grueling journey.

The tremendous will of the Penn State students is for families like the Coykendall's.

Fifteen-year-old Tommy Coykendall was diagnosed with Stage 3 skin cancer when he was just 9.

The Four Dimaonds Fund and THON made sure the family didn't have to deal with the crippling debt that can come with cancer.

"It was just one less thing we had to stress about, that we got to worry about Tommy and his treatments and his health instead of worrying about paying the bills and what to do," said Pattie Coykendall of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. "We knew we were going to be OK."

"Now I want to come to Penn State and be just like them and help others just like them," said Tommy Coykendall, cancer survivor.

The young men and women of Penn State were on their feet without sleep for a total of 46 hours.

"The heels and the muscles in the arches in your feet, those kind of tense up and the lower calves, but other than that I guess the lower back and hamstrings," said Alex Walsh, dancer.

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More than 700 dancers take part, helped by thousands of other students in support roles.

The kids helped them through their grueling journey, but also those like former Penn State football player and current Houston Texan Devon Still.

Still led the pep rally Saturday night. His daughter, Leah, just finished cancer treatment and is free of the disease.

"Time is promised to nobody. You can't take everyday with someone for granted, you have to cherish those moments," said Still. "And just to watch my daughter go through what she did and continue to be strong and inspire people all over the around the world, it was truly amazing."

Several volunteers went up on stage to have their hair cut for Wigs for Kids including Manna Potter whose brother is a cancer survivor and was helped by THON and the Four Diamonds Fund.

"(What do you think about the new do?) I like it better," said Potter of Philipsburg. "(What made you do this?) I've done it for three years now so I wanted to do it again."

"Just one little way we can pay back what Four Diamonds has done for us," said Jody Potter of Philipsburg.

The inspirational young men and women entered the Bryce Jordan Center on Friday to a raucous crowd.

"I'm more excited more than anything. Of course I'm a little nervous, but I'm ready for it, I've been training for it all semester so I'm ready to go," said Daniel Costello of Collegeville, Pennsylvania.

"I'm overwhelmed with emotion. We have been talking about this weekend for the entire year so it is unreal that it's finally here," said Jesse Savarese of Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania. "And right now we're just so excited, my dance partner and I, to be standing for the entire weekend for these kids, for our THON family and for our organization."

Cancer can put up walls where the boundaries seem limited, but for these students it's FTK - For The Kids. They were the inspiration to not sleep, not sit and dance for 46 straight hours.

"It's special man, it's really special. It's unique, it's the largest student-run philanthropy in the world and this is what Penn State is all about," said Jack Rogers of Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

More than 700 dancers took part in the event, helped by thousands of other students in support roles.

"Hydrating the dancers, feeding the dancers, family events, events on stage, entertainment," said volunteer Monica Sucharski of Somerton.

Sucharski and Kara McCollaum are from the Philadelphia area. They spent the year working behind the scenes.

"It's more than that, it's really just helping out children and their families and, just from a volunteer perspective, we really put everything into it behind the scenes," said McCollaum of Bensalem, Pennsylvania. "We're not really well known, but I kind of like that."

"I just love the work ethic, and obviously I love the cause. I love this entire event," said Sucharski.

Money raised benefits pediatric cancer patients and their families at the Four Diamonds Fund, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and pediatric cancer.

"One in 5 children are still dying from this disease. It's killing more children in the United States than any other disease," said Suzanne Graney of Four Diamonds Fund.

"THON is so much more than just the total that's released at the end of the year. I think it's a monetary representation, but it represents so much more.

"We could raise a $1 or we could raise $20 million, and we're making a difference in the life of a child, and not just one child, but hundreds of children," said Katie Nailey, THON Executive Director.

THON has once again shown us what Penn State is all about. The students have learned the greatest lessons in life during this journey: sacrifice, contribution and philanthropy. As one student put it, THON isn't an event, it has to be felt.

"I feel like I will look back on this forever, tell my grandchildren about this, tell my children about this and always come back to THON as an alumni and donate," said Stigger.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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