UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State women's soccer has always been at the forefront of the fight to cure childhood cancer through its THON involvement.
From raising awareness throughout the season to participating in the annual SAAB lip sync battle and the THON pep rally, those are just a few ways the Nittany Lions have opted to get involved.
This year, the team is stepping it up a notch.
Penn State women's soccer will represent two of the five Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) student-athletes participating as dancers during THON weekend, which kicks off Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center. Senior Megan Schafer and junior Sarafina Valenti will be on their feet for 46 hours straight dancing for a cure.
Each year, SAAB selects student-athletes to represent their organization, with Schafer and Valenti among five dancers this year.
Schafer, as she did on the soccer field all year, will serve as the veteran in the group alongside second year SAAB dancer Charlie Shuman (football). She danced in THON last year and has been giving Valenti and her fellow first time SAAB dancers some advice leading up to the weekend.
"Everyone says you don't truly understand THON until you're actually a part of it and that's absolutely true," Schafer said.
One of the main reasons Schafer got involved in THON in the first place was because of her young cousin, Mary. Mary was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and Schafer got to witness first-hand the impact it can have on families.
Thankfully, Mary is cancer-free today, but that won't stop Schafer from continuing to fight for a cure.
Some might say standing for 46 hours with no sleep is insane, but Schafer can't wait to get back inside the Bryce Jordan Center for round two. She said immediately after THON last year, even though she developed some serious "cankles," she wished she could go right back.
"When I told my trainer I was dancing again she called me crazy but clearly I'm crazy and passionate enough about THON that I want to do it again," Schafer said.
Schafer said her favorite parts of dancing in THON were the pep rally and learning the line dance. She said even though it was an exhausting experience, there was nothing she'd rather do on any given weekend.
"When you start to get tired and your feet start to hurt you just put it into perspective and realize that you can do this because people are going through a lot more than you are that weekend," Schafer said.
Valenti will be dancing at THON for the first time this year. She spent more 30 hours at the BJC last year, but she said she loved the energy so much she couldn't wait to get more involved. That's when she decided to dance with her teammate.
"This year I wanted to make a bigger impact and get down on the floor to really experience what THON is all about," Valenti said.
Valenti said she's excited to dance for SAAB's THON families, the Messina's and the Buckley's, who the team has only grown closer with over the last few years.
Valenti said she expects to be prepared physically because of the tough spring workouts the team has already started. She said being a student-athlete will help her immensely with the physical fitness needed to complete a 46-hour dance marathon.
Schafer has also offered Valenti some friendly advice as THON weekend approaches, to enjoy the experience and don't take it for granted.
For the two teammates, it will be a weekend they will never forget.