I had water spots on my shirt and silly string in my hair. I laughed and kept photographing. It was 6:05, just a few minutes into this year’s Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon and the fun for the youngsters was in full swing.
This was my fifth year covering Thon for the Centre Daily Times. When I started my professional career I was no stranger to the event.
I learned that as a freshmen at Penn State in 2007. I was a photographer for the Daily Collegian and, being new, got the Saturday 3 a.m. shift. I walked onto the floor and was greeted by a beach ball to the head. I was overwhelmed and confused. By the end of the weekend I saw all the fun and knew how impactful of an event it was.
In 2010 I danced for 46 hours. My organization was small and we weren’t paired with a family, but every beach ball that flew my way I’d tap back, and I’d return fire in any squirt gun battles. And I also had a star glow wand for the weekend.
Now, nine years later, I recognize many of the Four Diamonds families. I’ve photographed them as they’ve grown, high on the shoulders of their dancers, to singing on stage. Some of the local Four Diamonds families I’ve gotten to know always bring a smile to my face.
I photographed Emily Whitehead as family, friends, community members and Penn Staters lined Centre Street in Philipsburg to welcome her home from the hospital. I’ve spotted Noah Benner at football practice and walking the BJC floor.
Last year I photographed Paula Engle-Herbert a few days before Thon at her family’s State College home. She insisted I dance with her and not take photos. I photographed Corban Potter when he was 3, blowing bubbles with his mom after she ran in the Hope Express. Last year he donated his long locks, and this year at 6 he checked out the Nittany Lion’s teeth before falling asleep in his mom’s arms during the final hour.
What Thon is doing is allowing me to dance with a 4-year old while I’m working. To exchange a look and laugh with a mom as her boy sleeps through one of the loudest parts of the weekend.
Thon allows sickness to go to the back burner for a weekend of fun. Beach balls, Nerf swords, capes, coloring books and bubbles included.
Thon is helping children be able to be kids, and be able to grow into a young adults.