Hoover siblings share intense THON experience

By on February 24, 2016

Photo courtesy Michael and Kathryn Hoover Michael and young cancer survivor Logan

Being part of a 46-hour dance marathon that raised an incredible $9.77 million to benefit families dealing with pediatric cancer is something Ephrata’s Michael and Kathryn Hoover won’t soon forget.

Last weekend’s Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON for short, was held at the Pennsylvania State University Bryce Jordan Center and involved more than 15,000 student volunteers &tstr; making it the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. The funds raised go to the Four Diamonds Fund of the Penn State Milton Hershey Hospital.

The siblings, both graduates of Ephrata High School, agree that the THON is an experience like no other, provided some behind-the-scenes glimpses.

Some dancers handle THON in different ways, Kathryn reported. Some get ice baths, piggy back rides from the powerlifting team. There are water breaks and there is some crying, eating, more crying, and the typical breakdown or two as personal endurance is tested over the 46 hours.

“It was amazing that my brother and I did so well in THON especially since the new flu virus was going around on the floor and around nine dancers left for the emergency room,” she said. “I handled THON by stretching every 30 minutes, drinking plenty of water, eating lots of bananas until I didn’t want to eat another, walking, and weirdly enough jumping rope.”

The Hoovers were also able to stay touch base.

“It was wonderful that my brother and I were able to see each other and ask how the other was doing and seeing our family together was an experience that I can’t forget,” she said.

Michael addressed the physical challenge.

“Dealing with the pain was difficult; my feet, legs, knees, lower back, pretty much everything hurt going into the overnight Saturday hours,” he said. “However, the pain and difficulty the children and families face associated with cancer is nothing in comparison and that puts everything into perspective. My body physically started to shut down around Sunday morning at 5, but having friends and my sister on the floor helped me to push through.”

Parental presence was critical, said Kathryn, as well as the support coming from back home.

“Our parents constantly supported us by coming on the floor, seeing us for 30 minutes for their guaranteed time, supporting us emotionally, mentally, and physically throughout the weekend,” she said. “It was also amazing the support we got from the Ephrata community. The texts, Facebook messages, and the other Ephrata graduates who are involved with THON Parker Harley, Chris Helock, and Brittany Althouse saw us on the dance floor and were able to check in with us.”

Pediatric cancer has taken on a face for Michael which makes the fight — and THON — all the more personal.

“Over the past year, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to get to know and babysit a 2 1/2 year-old boy named Logan who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma,” he said. “In the past few months he recently beat his cancer!”

Logan’s battle provided Michael with perspective about the THON challenge.

“In the early morning hours, when my body was physically shutting down and I was reaching an exhaustion level, I’ve never encountered before, I was upset that the pass system wasn’t working and I wasn’t able to see a friend I really wanted to see,” he said.

“I had started to tear up and Logan’s mother came over to me gave me a huge embrace and said: ‘The reason my son is still alive today is because of people and dancers like you.’

“These words took me to my emotional breaking point and is what continued to push me through the 46 hours of pain. It is for kids like Logan why I THON.

“I would like to personally thank everyone for all of their donations to THON, because if it wasn’t for you little boys like Logan may not be alive today.

Kathryn said the relief on completing THON was overwhelming.

“Once the 46 hours were up and we were able to sit down it was an amazing feeling, no matter how many bananas I ate during THON (13 and counting), the water bottles I drank (too many to keep track of), the support from everyone, and the mindset that we were doing it for the kids was all I needed.”

Kathryn noted that the planning for the next THON begins as soon as the current one ends.

“I really don’t think most people understand what THON is,” she said. “THON isn’t something that you raise money for one weekend, its something we raise money for all year. The fundraising never stops. Once THON is over we start working on the fundraising and THON events for next year.”

Michael noted that while the total raised for this year’s THON was a bit lower than in the past, the importance of the effort remains and grows.

“In regards to the total somewhat declining, without THON and the money raised by Penn State students, Four Diamonds wouldn’t exist,” he said. “Families would have the burden of paying for the costs associated with pediatric cancer themselves and these hospital bills are insurmountable. Therefore, it’s not about the total, but the impact the money that is raised has on the families.”

The university community is key to the fundraising process in Kathryn’s mind.

“We are a part of something bigger and we are a part of it together,” she said. “We do this for the kids so they can grow up and become a Nittany Lion.”


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