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THON Features: Higgins Reaches Dancer Goal

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By Tom Shively, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Every February, thousands of Penn State students and members of the community gather at the Bryce Jordan Center for one of the biggest weekends of the year.

Penn State's THON takes center stage Friday, as more than 700 students will dance for 46 hours straight to raise money for childhood cancer treatment and research.

One of those dancers is Penn State field hockey's own Delani Higgins, who will dance on behalf of the Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) along with four other Penn State student-athletes from the same organization.

For Higgins, dancing has been her goal for a while, dating all the way back to her high school days in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania.

"I've always wanted to dance in THON," Higgins said. "My high school had a mini-THON and I danced every year in that. I've always gone to athlete hour here as well with my team, which was a really cool way to be a part of THON."

Higgins has learned a lot from former Nittany Lion Carly Celkos, her teammate on the field hockey team who graduated last year. Celkos represented SAAB as a dancer in THON 2017, and she has been a source of guidance for Higgins as the senior prepares for a big weekend.

"Carly told me to get involved with my committee, rules and regulations, and that helped me figure out that I really wanted to dance," Higgins said. "I told Liz Johnson (Student-Athlete Welfare and Development Director) that I wanted to dance and I did whatever I had to do to make it happen. I raised enough money and now here I am."

Higgins and Celkos have also been texting back and forth, with the former dancer giving some key advice to Higgins about THON and the week leading up to it. 

"[Celkos] told me to stay hydrated, especially in the days before dancing and then making sure I have the right shoes and get enough sleep so that I can make it through the full 46," Higgins said. "She said to stay in the moment and have fun because it's such a special event. I can't think about what I'm feeling, only who I'm dancing for." 

While the whole 46 hours will be packed with dancing, making friends and interacting with the THON children, Higgins is looking forward to a few specific events.

"Definitely the pep rally and the final four hours are what I'm most excited for," Higgins said. "For the pep rally, being part of my team and having them support me is going to be really cool. The final four is always amazing, getting to hear from all the families that have been effected by this disease and helped by THON. It's really emotional and a remarkable moment."

Penn State SAAB has two THON families, one of which is very close to Higgins and the field hockey team. The team's athletic trainer, Renee Messina, has a daughter who battled pediatric cancer. Both Renee, Isabella and the entire Messina family have been a huge part of the Penn State field hockey family over the years.

"I'm very close with the Messina's and not just because they're our Four Diamonds family," Higgins said. "Renee took me through my ACL recovery and all that went into that so we really bonded through those experiences. Being able to dance for that family and represent that family is a huge honor for me." 

Higgins also views THON as a chance to represent Penn State athletics, something she is used to doing as a student-athlete but looks forward to doing so in a less conventional way.

"You always see these athletes being so strong on the field and representing athletics just shows that we're involved in so much more than just sports," Higgins said. "We really are a part of this community."

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