by Ella Rubenstein

Written by: Katey McLaughlin, Claire Nguyen, & Sydney Waldner

Each year, over 700 students are given the once in a lifetime opportunity to participate as a dancer in THON™. Each student has a unique story about their own THON journey and what it means to them to be a dancer during THON Weekend 2024. Three dancers in particular – Nathan Grimes, Lauren Stefanelli, and Olivia O’Mara – wanted to share their stories about why they dance, For The Kids®. 

Nathan Grimes is a Junior majoring in Biobehavioral Health with minors in Global Health and Neuroscience. He will be dancing for Phi Epsilon Kappa and is the PEK President and THON Family Relations Chair. When asked what it means for him to be selected to dance in THON 2024, Grimes expressed that “it means the world to me.…I have family members who have had cancer and have unfortunately died from cancer. I’ve had friends who’ve passed away from cancer, and I’ve also had some experiences with people that I know who’ve had pediatric cancer. After my first THON last year, I knew that it was something that I needed to be a part of, and I am just excited to be part of that whole entire experience and to get to experience it from another perspective.” 

Grimes also expressed why he wanted to be a THON dancer. “There was a child who was part of a children’s theatre that I worked for, and I would help direct shows, and he was a pediatric cancer survivor.” said Grimes. “He was in the Four Diamonds network, so shout out Mario. He’s been a big inspiration in my life. The connections that I have with cancer, the family members that I lost, and in general, THON really is about making the impossible possible and being part of something that’s bigger than yourself, and that’s why I want to be a dancer.” 

Our second dancer spotlight is Lauren Stefanelli. She is a senior majoring in Biobehavioral Health and will be dancing for the Lionettes Dance Team. When asked what it means to be a dancer for THON 2024, Stefanelli shared, “THON is truly indescribable; it is one of those things in life where you need to be there to feel the magic of it. I have been a committee member volunteer and a chair member for the Lionettes Dance Team – and I have loved every minute of it. The moment when I really felt this was when I attended my first THON. Seeing the dancers dancing for the Lionettes was so beyond incredible. The entire weekend I kept thinking to myself, ‘I want to do this one day.’ Alongside this experience, the time that I was first introduced to our Lionettes THON families is a time I will forever hold close to me. I have no words to even describe the feelings that I had when I met both Shiloh and Ashley for the first time. These girls are the strongest, most beautiful girls on both the inside and outside that I have ever met. Not only do I want to dance for them, but I want to dance for all the families involved in THON and I want to dance so that one day we can all dance together in celebration of a cure.”  

Stefanelli plans to push her fundraising efforts through Donor Drive by reaching out to companies to continue to fundraise and spread THON’s Mission. I really want to push myself when it comes to fundraising this year. In the past, I have always pushed my DonorDrive to my family and friends on my social media platforms and I have also utilized THONvelopes.” said Lauren. “Through this, I have always been successful at not only hitting my fundraising goal but being able to exceed it. I would also like to get some corporate donations…I will reach out to companies, share my stories with them, and most importantly, share THON’s mission with them. It is my goal to spread THON’s message to as many people as I possibly can.” 

Our third Dancer Spotlight is Olivia O’Mara, a senior majoring in Hospitality Management. She is currently serving as President of Axis and will be dancing for them. O’Mara shared what it means to her to be selected to dance in THON. “Being selected to dance in THON is the biggest honor that I feel like you can have in THON. When I joined THON, I didn’t really understand what it meant to dance, and throughout the years, being able to see what goes on in the background and then being able to go to THON weekend, I think it all just plays out so well…You can see all your hard work at the end of the weekend. I also think being able to represent your THON family – I’m representing the Calvanelli’s, Axis’s family, and we’ve grown so close with them. It’s just so special that they get to see me supporting them on the floor for those 46-hours.” 

O’Mara was inspired to dance in THON after a perspective of the 46-hour weekend that was shared with her. “I’ve never been able to put it into words, but then I heard somebody say this to me last year: those 46 hours, no matter how tough they are mentally and physically, are the 46 hours that we’ll get back, that we’ll be able to remember as a fun time. The kids that were dancing for, they don’t have that. We’re dancing for these kids who go through struggles all the time. So, dancing for them and being able to push through all the obstacles that weekend, I think is so special.” 

Cover photo credit to: Ben Guenther