By Mike Gilbert, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As members of the Penn State community gear up to take part in THON's 46-hour dance marathon benefitting The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey, not many of more than 700 dancers also have to worry about trying to qualify for a Division I NCAA championship.
Jessica O'Neill-Lyublinsky is in the middle of a strong season as a fifth-year senior on the fencing team, also living out one of her dreams to be dancing on the floor at the Bryce Jordan Center and standing up against childhood cancer this weekend.
"I found out [I'd be dancing] January 20th and all of my emotions came out," O'Neill- Lyublinsky said. "I wanted to scream, cry, do everything because I was so excited. Now it's only a day away and it's becoming so real."
O'Neill- Lyublinsky has served as the family relations co-chair for the Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) for the past two years. Part of her role includes working directly, along with other Penn State student-athletes, with the Messina and Buckley families, who are the SAAB's THON families. However, it was a year ago she realized she needed to be out on the floor during THON weekend.
"I just kept looking at the floor and I thought, I want to be down there with all the families, all the kids," O'Neill- Lyublinsky said. "They look like they're having such a great time and I just wanted to be a part of it."
Luckily, the fencing team's competition schedule this year allows her to get plenty of rest both before and after the dance marathon. O'Neill- Lyublinsky's coaches have also been very supportive.
"Coach said it's great conditioning," O'Neill- Lyublinsky said with a laugh.
The team usually competes in a tournament at Temple University during THON weekend, but this season the tournament has been pushed to the weekend after the event.
Free from competition, the schedule fits perfectly with THON, but O'Neill- Lyublinsky is now working on balancing her workouts, making sure she isn't too sore to dance, but still in proper shape to win bouts.
As for the mental part of not being able to rest for 46 consecutive hours, O'Neill- Lyublinsky doesn't think that will be an issue.
"Mentally, I just have been getting ready," O'Neill-Lyublinsky said. "I think all of the adrenaline is really going to come into play because I'm just ready to get out there and just do it."
A native of Westchester, New York, O'Neill- Lyublinsky wasn't truly familiar with THON until she came to campus and got involved. For most, THON is an event that really has to be seen in person to be fully understood.
"They talked about THON on my recruiting trip, but other than that, I was never here for THON because we were always traveling," O'Neill-Lyublinsky said. "The moment I decided to dance was when I finally went to THON last year and left the Bryce Jordan Center. You just can't describe the feeling and I wanted to be a part of this as much as I can be."
As Penn State students and student-athletes from all over the country and the world fill Happy Valley, the THON cause comes to life in a tangible sense throughout the year, culminating in the energetic dance marathon.
"The whole point of THON is to show what cancer cannot do," O'Neill-Lyublinsky said.Beginning Friday, O'Neill-Lyublinsky and three other SAAB representatives will take the floor in the Bryce Jordan Center for THON 2017.