Penn State

Nittany Lion dances into hearts at Thon

Penn State senior Michael Valania, the Nittany Lion mascot, looks on during the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon on Saturday, February 21, 2015, in the Bryce Jordan Center. Valania is a dancer in Thon this year and is also making multiple appearances as the Lion before he passes on his duties Monday.
Penn State senior Michael Valania, the Nittany Lion mascot, looks on during the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon on Saturday, February 21, 2015, in the Bryce Jordan Center. Valania is a dancer in Thon this year and is also making multiple appearances as the Lion before he passes on his duties Monday. CDT photo

It’s a unique year for Penn State senior Michael Valania — although the community might better know him as the Nittany Lion mascot.

This year’s Thon is Valania’s last event in the Nittany Lion suit.

He became the lion in the spring of 2013, and will pass the reins to his successor on Monday.

“It’s bittersweet, but I think it will hit me more in a couple months,” Valania said. “It’s something I’ve partaken in every year, but this year is pretty special. I just want to make the most of it.”

Valania said he plans to dance for 15 or 16 hours in the Nittany Lion suit, and participate the remainder of the time as a student — operating on nothing more than a “normal night sleep” on Thursday night into Friday morning, he said.

He said he arrived at the Bryce Jordan Center on Friday afternoon.

“There’s no secret to making it through the weekend,” Valania said. “I think I’m relying on a big support system with friends and some family coming in (from Delaware). It’s a group effort that will probably give me the momentum to make it to the end.”

Thon is a 46-hour, student-run dance marathon that benefits the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, which financially helps families of pediatric cancer patients.

Thon wraps up at 4 p.m. Sunday, when the final total is announced.

Although, Valania won’t actually be dancing the whole time, Thon participants consider the term as simply “not sitting” the entire event, but still sometimes busting a move in the meantime to live music, Valania said.

Valania last participated as a student during his sophomore year on the dancer relations committee, and made several appearances during Thon weekend the year after that.

“I guess I have two unique views when I go to Thon that are both really rewarding,” Valania said. “My favorite part being the Lion is interacting with the kids. It’s cool, because some are shy, but you see them open up when they see the mascot. … When I’m out of the suit, I’m actually allowed to mingle with people and (Four Diamonds) families.”

This year, Valania is dancing for the Adopt-A-Family program, which allows organizations and Four Diamonds families the chance to build strong relationships together.

Although Valania said he’s not dancing for a specific family, he best knows Jeremy Hawk through Thon’s Impact program, which Valania was involved in when he first participated in Thon.

Jeremy, 12, has a posterior fossa brain tumor.

“It’s all for support,” Valania said.

Valania, originally from Newark, Del., comes from a Penn State family. His sister, Kirsten Valania, graduated from Penn State in 2012. She, too, was active in Thon.

“Our family is really invested in this university and it’s a place I’m proud of,” Valania said. “I think Thon weekend is everything that Penn State stands for, and it’s built on tradition and pride, and has the biggest network of friends.”

Thinking ahead, Valania said he wants to remind the student who will take his place as the mascot to establish time-management skills.

“Just be passionate about the position and remind yourself why you wanted to do it,” Valania said. “I always wanted to do it since I was old enough to realize the Lion was a person. … It’s one of the best things I could do to represent my university.”

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