Four years later, and special-teams captain Nick Scott can still remember her. He’ll never be able to forget.
As a freshman, Scott traveled with his teammates to the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, where he met a young girl about 13 years old who was in the midst of a tough battle with cancer. Scott remembered Tuesday how they connected from the start — how she smiled in the face of adversity, how they talked, and how it was like they’d known each other for much longer.
Two or three weeks after that meeting, Scott learned, she passed away.
“It was tough,” Scott said, his mood shifting Tuesday during a news conference at Pegula Ice Arena. “She was a young girl. She was sweet, smart, all those things — and we lost her to a terrible, terrible disease.”
Scott said he’ll think of that girl a lot this weekend, whether he plans to or not, as he and football teammate Charlie Shuman take part in the 46-hour Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, which is affectionately known as “Thon” for short. Scott and Shuman will be just two of the 700-plus dancers on their feet for 46 hours, starting Friday evening and ending Sunday afternoon.
There’ll be no time for sleep. Just three days of standing and dancing around the Bryce Jordan Center, spending time with children and families impacted by cancer while helping raise millions to fight the pediatric disease. More than $10 million was raised last year alone.
“I wanted to make sure I left my footprint somewhere other than the football field,” Scott said.
Added Shuman, a backup offensive lineman who also danced last year: “It’s so much bigger than myself. ... It’s about the kids, and being able to represent them once again was something I couldn’t pass up.”
Scott stood on the BJC floor last year, supporting his cheerleader girlfriend who danced, and listened to families take turns recounting lost loved ones, second chances and how Thon impacted their lives. There was “Courageous Connor,” the young boy with the hands in his pockets who endured a seven-hour surgery within a day of learning of his liver cancer diagnosis. There was Marcus, who waited four hours for the blood-test results he feared — he had leukemia. And there was the family of Savion Atterberry, a 10-year-old who died in 2016 whose family said “monsters couldn’t break him.”
Shuman was there last year, too. Every time his feet became too sore, his hamstrings too tight, his mind just floated to what those children had to endure.
“He can do this every single day, so I can do it for one more hour,” Shuman said. “One more hour in my life is nothing compared to the battle that he has to do every day for the rest of his life.”
But the mood at Pegula, where both Shuman and Scott spoke and explained why they decided to sign up for 46 hours without sleep, didn’t stay somber. It wasn’t just preventing patients’ tears that motivated the pair; it was bringing smiles to children who had already endured lifetimes of hardship. It was the water-gun fights, the bubble-blowing and the dancing.
Scott joked that Shuman explicitly told him no piggybacks, while the 6-foot-8 Shuman laughed about how he usually served as the “beacon” for the group of athletes. “I’m easy to find,” he said, smiling. “’Hey, where’s our group? Oh, there’s Charlie. All right.’”
Shuman signed up to dance last year, collapsing and falling asleep the moment balloons rained from the ceiling to mark the end of Thon. He lost 10 pounds over those 46 hours and eagerly signed up again this year. Despite that scene and watching what his girlfriend endured, Scott thought about it over the offseason and decided last semester he couldn’t go his entire college career without the experience.
Shuman is dancing as part of the Student Athlete Advisory Board, while Scott is dancing independently. Other athletes participating are Delani Higgins (field hockey), Connor Raeman (golf), Megan Schafer (women’s soccer) and Sarafina Valenti (women’s soccer).
Shuman and Scott have talked throughout the offseason about Thon. Between lifting and running, the two will often say to one another “You ready? You ready?” Shuman’s given Scott advice, too — such as not forgetting to eat. Scott said he plans on smuggling in some sour air heads, too, since he eats half a bag before every football game and the other half during every halftime.
Scott and Shuman both know what awaits them in a few days. They know it’s not going to be easy. But they both said it was still an easy decision to take part.
“I’m really excited,” Scott said. “I’m a little nervous, just about the physical aspect of it because I know it’s going to be hard; a lot of people say it’s going to be hard.
“But, as long as I remember why I’m doing it, I think it’ll be fine.”