By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "I went to THON my freshman year and just kind of fell in love with it," said Tess Kearns.
That moment was the start of something special for the Penn State track and field student-athlete.
Kearns is the now head THON chair for the Student-Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB, and she has been involved with the organization since coming here as a freshman.
"My freshman year, I came in and really wanted to be a part of SAAB. It was definitely something that was very attractive to me. So, then they gave me the role of planning our first ever lip-sync battle three years ago. All of the money ended up going to THON. I just kind of threw myself right into it," Kearns said.
Kearns knew she wanted to follow in her older sister's footsteps. Her sister was the head THON chair for the club cross country team here at Penn State.
"My sister went here, and she was really involved with THON. She was on the club cross country team and she was their head THON chair, so I was always hearing her talk about it," Kearns said.
But Kearns has a more emotional reason for being a part of this organization. Kearns said she hasn't been affected by childhood cancer, but she has been affected by cancer itself.
"I've never been personally affected by childhood cancer but growing up my dad did have cancer when he was 33. Not childhood cancer, but he was still pretty young. Cancer has always had a place in my heart, I just always want to help as much as I can," she said.
Kearns found herself shadowing Angela Widlacki, who was the head THON chair for SAAB last year. Now, Kearns is the head chair for SAAB and works alongside co-chair and football player Charlie Shuman. Kearns and Shuman are in charge of organization all the THON fundraising efforts for SAAB.
"We do the lip-sync battle, a pie in the face contest, our annual auction. So, a bunch of teams donate stuff and we auction it off online. I think this year we made almost $5,500 on it. We did an assassin game this year, we did a bake sale, and a lot of small fundraisers through athletics," Kearns said. "We sold programs in the fall at the football games, and we did some sustainability stuff with the Penn State Tailgate Ambassadors, so kind of dabbled in a little bit of everything."
Although juggling both track and field and being the head chair for THON on SAAB can be time consuming, Kearns expresses how much Shuman and her collaborate to make sure the job gets done.
"I can tag team with him. So, when one of us can't do something, the other one picks up the slack," Kearns said. "It works well. We make it work. It's time consuming, but it's worth it." He's done so much this year. I wouldn't be able to do what I do without Charlie."
Kearns is also in charge of leading Athlete Hour, which is a special hour that kids at THON get to come interact with athletes.
"Every year on Saturday we rent out the Tennis Center or the IM building, and we set up booths with fun simple games. The kids come over from the Bryce Jordan Center and we play around and have fun," Kearns said. "They love it. There's a DJ and people are dancing and playing games. They get to interact with athletes which is really fun for them."
Seeing the kids play with all of the athletes is one of Kearns's favorite parts about THON. She also loves how this organization brings so many people together for one goal.
"Within athletics, it's such a big organization. We are all going at different speeds all year round but when THON does come around and we get 18 teams up on stage for pep rally, all fighting for one cause and we get 22 teams at Athlete Hour to dance around with the kids. To see that sense of community and love and that you are all fighting for one single goal, is just amazing," Kearns said.
That community and love will be felt throughout Happy Valley this weekend, and Kearns will be a big part of it.