THON – View from a dancer's feet

Tommy Scharnitz, a first-year Penn State College of Medicine student, is a THON veteran. As a freshman at Penn State (University Park campus), he heard about The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, affectionately known as THON. It is a year-long effort to raise funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer, for which the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital is the sole beneficiary.

That first year, Scharnitz attended THON expecting to sit in the stands for an hour or two to see what all the hype was about, only to end up staying for twelve hours. He didn't want to leave and knew he needed to get involved. During his undergraduate years, Scharnitz served on THON committees, and as a senior in 2012, took on the role of overall hospitality chairperson. He and his team were responsible for all of the food during THON weekend and other THON events throughout the year; not an easy task, with 700 dancers and more than 15,000 volunteers.

It was Scharnitz's passion for THON that led him to Penn State College of Medicine. "My experience with THON, and wanting to stay involved, was one of the driving factors in applying to med school here." He had always been interested in science, but after participating in THON and visiting with the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology physicians, he realized medicine was for him.

After matriculating as a Penn State medical student, it was only natural that Scharnitz stay involved with THON. "You never graduate from THON," he says, "it remains a part of who you are."

Scharnitz and second-year College of Medicine student, Angela Li, were among the 710 dancers participating in the forty-six-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon in February 2013, at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College. "Having the opportunity to dance and represent the College of Medicine was a huge honor," said Scharnitz of his first experience as a THON dancer.

As anticipation for the weekend built, Scharnitz found himself prepping for the studying and sleep he would lose. "I think my experience last year on the overall committee for THON prepared me well. The busier you are, the more efficient you have to be," he said. "I hit the books hard in preparation."

Ready to dance, and excited to be back in the Bryce Jordan Center, Scharnitz was most looking forward to reconnecting with the THON families he had met over the years. "We become a part of their extended family and they look forward to this weekend as much as we do," he said. "Four Diamonds kids treat THON like Christmas. It's a break away from their treatments and the hospital. They're given the chance to be normal kids, even if it's just for a weekend."

Scharnitz feels lucky to have had the opportunity to participate during medical school, and he now plans to help grow awareness of THON and the Four Diamonds Fund among the student body at Penn State Hershey.

Click here to see photos from Scharnitz's THON experience

THON once again has set a new record, raising $12,374,034.46 this year. With that $12 million contribution, it surpassed the $100 million mark in total funds raised to support the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital; a goal since its inception in 1977.

Charles and Irma Millard established the Four Diamonds Fund in 1972 after the death of their son, Christopher, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eleven. The Fund helps patients and families at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital dealing with childhood cancer through superior care, comprehensive support, and innovative research.

Click here to read additional stories on the Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Update.