Going the distance: Hope Express runners stroll into Bryce Jordan Center as families, students volunteers celebrate start of Thon weekend

A packed Bryce Jordan Center came roaring to life Friday night as runners from The Hope Express made their emotional grand entrance to the stage to kick off Thon.

Runners trekked 135 miles from Hershey in a 24-hour-long relay race to raise awareness for the Four Diamonds Fund, the beneficiary of the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

And this year, the event is extra special for Philipsburg resident Jodie Potter as her now cancer-free 3-year-old son, Corban, met her at the finish line.

“There’s nothing better to fight for. It’s really brought out the good in a lot of people,” Potter said. “It’s just been really amazing and overwhelming, but worth it.”

When The Hope Express team took the stage, thousands of students, volunteers and other families on the floor and bleachers of the BJC cheered as the team members danced and shared their stories. This year, there were 24 runners for The Hope Express — eight of whom were part of the Express Team. Each runner on the Express Team ran in three stages of three miles. Each runner on the Extreme Team ran three legs of six miles each overnight.

Potter said she became involved in the program last year when her son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.

“We were in the hospital last year when the team left,” Potter said. “This year, we’re on the other side of things and it’s been a such a great experience.”

Corban was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in December 2011. Last March, he went through chemotherapy and had a tumor removed, and he has been cancer-free ever since.

“We found out and were in tears. I couldn’t have imagined anything better than that,” Potter said. “You don’t know what each day is going to bring. You live hour-to-hour.”

Potter said it’s an honor to be a part of something that impacts so many people and a responsibility she takes very seriously.

“Last year I was on the other side of the table seeing so many people help us,” she said. “This year, it’s my turn to give back and support those who are in my old shoes.”

To prepare for the run, Potter said she trained tirelessly and knew it was going to be a physical, mental and emotional journey.

“You just keep running and know you’re doing it for the good,” Potter said.

This is the Potter family’s second year participating in Thon. Last year, her daughter, Manna, 7, donated her hair and the Potters said this is something they’ll participate in for years to come.

“Once you’re in, you’re always in. How can you not be?” Potter said. “There are so many roles from running with Hope Express to volunteering, you name it.”

Potter thinks next year she’ll volunteer with behind-the-scenes work and hopes to encourage other cancer families that they are not alone.

“You just have to reassure yourself and them that there is light at the end of the journey,” Potter said.