Numerous Penn State student-athletes ready for THON weekend

University Park, Pa. — The 39th annual Penn State Dance Marathon will kick off Friday in the Bryce Jordan Center and numerous Nittany Lion student-athletes will be among the dancers and committee members helping to raise money and awareness for childhood cancer. Known affectionately to Penn Staters as "THON," Dance Marathon is the culminating event to a year's worth of fundraising by Penn State students for pediatric cancer research and treatment at the Milton S. Hershey Center. THON has raised more than $69 million for the Four Diamonds Fund. In 2010, THON gathered record-breaking crowds and raised $7,838,054.36.

Members of Penn State's Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) are extremely active in THON, and ran several fund-raising activities once again this year including sending solicitation letters to friends and family, canning at various athletic events, and holding an online auction. SAAB also held the Mr. & Mrs. Student-Athlete Pageant, as well as a volleyball tournament and barbeque in the fall to benefit THON. In addition to generating financial support for THON, SAAB also provides emotional support to its THON child, Isabella Messina, and her family all year long. For more on Isabella's story, please read the feature below.

Those wishing to assist in SAAB's fund-raising efforts and help a good cause by donating directly to THON can do so by going to www.thon.org and selecting SAAB as the organization whose name you'd like to donate under.

Six student-athletes will represent SAAB as dancers including Michael El-Saleh (men's fencing- Houston, Texas), Lori Greszczak (women's fencing- Hackettstown, N.J.), Jackie Hakes (women's soccer- Spokane, Wash.), Jamie Lavin (women's golf- Deerfield, Ill.), Ali Meves (field hockey- Lower Gwynedd, Pa.), and Danielle Toney (women's soccer- Northville, Mich.). Additionally, four Lionettes and two cheerleaders will also participate as dancers including Keilin Armeny (Lionnettes), Katelyn Berardi (Lionnettes), Alyssa Donahue (cheerleading), Alyssa Guttendorf (Lionnettes), Marisa Pollack (Lionnettes), and Meeghan Smolinsky (cheerleading). Dancers are not allowed to sit nor sleep during the 46-hour event that will be taking place in the Bryce Jordan Center. This year's THON began at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18 and ends at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 20.

In addition to the dancers and captains, numerous other student-athletes both attend THON and participate in Student-Athlete Hour and a THON favorite, the Pep Rally. Members of the football team will also give tours of the Lasch Building in conjunction with THON and the Make-A-Wish Foundation on Saturday.

SAAB's THON efforts this year were led by Drew Yukelson (baseball, THON Chair & Communications Chair- State College, Pa.), Caroline Molloy (Lionnettes, Entertainment Captain including Pep Rally & Athlete Hour), Kristen Rodman (women's swimming & diving, Finance Chair- Lansdale, Pa.), and Lee Valigorsky (women's fencing, Family Relations Chair- DuBois, Pa.).

Check back to www.GoPSUsports.com for additional coverage of SAAB's participation in THON throughout the weekend.

For more information about Dance Marathon, please go to www.THON.org.

About Isabella Messina, SAAB's THON Child

This year, SAAB is privileged to once again share our fundraising success with a Four Diamonds Family who is very dear to the Penn State Athletic community. Pat, Renee, Isabella, and Jack Messina have been part of the Penn State Athletic family since Renee worked as an athletic trainer for the women's field hockey, men's lacrosse and tennis teams. During Renee's time here, her family grew a strong connection with PSU athletics.

In March of 2003, Isabella Messina was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia at just 20 months old. When the Penn State Athletic community learned of Isabella's illness, SAAB felt an even stronger connection with the longstanding tradition of THON, and adopted the Messina's as our THON sponsored family.

For months following Isabella's diagnosis, Pat and Renee relied on the Four Diamonds Fund to provide financial and emotional support. The fund acted as a secondary insurance for the Messina's to cover all expenses that were not paid for by their primary insurance company. It also provided gas and meal vouchers and offset other financial burdens for the family. This incredible support network helped the Messina's cope through this unthinkable time.

Just months shy of Isabella's five-year mark of being considered cured, the Messina's yet again got struck with horrifying news. In November 2007, then-6 year-old Isabella relapsed with a different form of Leukemia. The family lived in uncertainty for the next few months, waiting to see if their little girl could continue to fight. A blessing came when their then-2 ½ year-old son, Jack, was found to have matching bone marrow, which gave Isabella the opportunity to undergo bone marrow transplantation in March 2008. After a successful transplant and months in the hospital, the Messina's were finally able to return to State College.

Isabella is currently healthy and enjoying childhood as a fourth grader. Thanks to the support of the Four Diamonds Fund, Pat and Renee are able to solely focus on keeping their daughter healthy, without having to worry about finances.

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Last Updated March 21, 2011