Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Hope Express

In an attempt to get ready for THON Weekend 2011, I will be including a photo a day from my experience dancing as well as a piece of advice, a story or some little piece of inspiration.

THON recently revamped its gallery and created a new photobase which features photos from last year (Love Belongs Here) and this year (Together Without Limits) - not only photos of THON weekend but of the FT5K, Harvest Day, Family Carnival, 100 Days Celebration and more!

You can check it out here.

In fact, a photo was included from during the last four hours of the weekend and the time that I spent on stage with some of my favorite girls in the world - Steph, Becca and Maddie. If you look carefully, you'll also find a picture of Aiden and his face covered in stickers.

Courtesy of THON.org

Folks, this is what 46 hours awake and on your feet looks like.

In addition to this little photo feature, I will also be doing some posts explaining THON and many of the different aspects of what we do as a university, what we do as a campus and some of the incredible things my friends are involved with across the commonwealth.

Tonight's post is focused on one of the newer parts of THON, but a part of THON that is growing momentum every year. This group is off to a running start (no pun intended.. okay, maybe a little bit intended) at becoming one of the top fundraising independent organizations with a goal of topping $50,000 this year.

They are a group of students, alumni, previous dancers, Four Diamonds parents and inspired individuals who take on the challenge of closing the gap between the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and the Bryce Jordan Center, where THON takes place each year - a 135 mile gap, that is.

They are The Hope Express.

If you haven't yet heard of the Hope Express, you are not alone. This will be the run's fifth year in existance and I hadn't previously heard of the group or its goal until they ran into the BJC on a very important Friday last February.

"All too often in our day to day lives we like to think of ourselves in control. We plan our every moment and convince ourselves that we are not prone to harm. This is folly of course. We all eventually succumb to "some kind of mishap or misfortune. For most of us these mishaps are minor blips on the screen of life. Yet for others the misfortune is deeper. It is life changing. It runs deep, all the way to the soul of our being."

These are the thoughts and experiences of the Gabe Angus family - the family whose idea it was to create the Hope Express. Somehow, I missed the family's incredible story on Family Friday on the THON blog. (A big thanks for Savannah for sharing it with me.) Rather than condense their story for you, I suggest you read it for yourself as the words of Gabe's parents are moving and strike such a familiar note with many of us.

I fell in love with the idea, then and there but I never took the time to understand, to learn, what exactly these runners were doing or why. While THON weekend is a chance for many Four Diamonds family and children to take a weekend break from cancer, clinic and treatments to relax, laugh, run and play - that isn't the case for all families. Unfortunately, some children have count levels too low to attend THON. Others are currently admitted in the hospital. The Hope Express is a way to connect these families and kids, like Kasey, to the excitement and passion of THON Weekend. And while it breaks my heart that Kasey won't be able to join me this THON weekend - it inspires me to know that this team of runners will be helping to make THON feel not so far away from Marathon Avenue.

Despite the immediate excitement of seeing the runners complete their 135-mile journey, I doubt that I would have ever stopped to look up what the run was all about or how to get involved but this year, a friend (and inspiration, might I add) of mine, Brian, will be completing four legs of that journey.

After months of facebook statuses about midnight runs and event invitations to help support Brian and his run, I finally gave in and had to ask just what he was training for and why on earth he would be running at such odd times of night and in the snow, none the less.

During his sophomore year at Penn State, Brian became involved with THON after a friend of his, Kaitlin, was diagnosed with Leukemia. Not only did Brian decide he would join THON's fundraising efforts or would spend weekends standing in the cold collecting change, but he went above and beyond. In 2009, Brian was chosen to dance for Penn State Berks and went on to chair the organization the following year. Though he has graduated from Penn State, Brian remains heavily involved with THON through DMAIG, the Dance Marathon Alumni Interest Group, as a regional chair for the Philadelphia area and also through the Hope Express. Because as we all know - hope is sometimes the most important thing. And that is one thing that Brian has more of than just about anyone.

For those of you interested in running and the logistics of this specific run, below you can find an interactive course map. Brian will be completely three legs of the race on his own (each being three miles in length) and will then finish the last leg of the race with his teammates.

The first hand off of the relay will take place at the Hoss's in Hummelstown on Thursday, February 17th at approximately 6:30pm. For those of you in the area, Hoss's will actually be donating 20% of the days proceeds to the Hope Express team if you simply present this flyer. But at that moment, the race to THON begins.

Brian will be completing miles 25 - 27, miles 70 - 72 and miles 112 - 114 before finishing the race with his teammates. These nine miles include a trip through my local neighborhood of Mechanicsburg and even a leg over the Tuscarora Mountain.

Brian isn't new to running For the Kids - this was taken at this year's 5K at Penn State Berks.

Though Brian had danced at THON before, I had a feeling that the preparation for a task like this might be a little bit different. Like I said, I'd seen the facebook statuses concerning snowy midnight runs and when I got ready for THON weekend - it was in a cozy gym, on an eliptical, in my favorite leggings.

"Being a former THON 2009 dancer, I believe that The HOPE Express will be harder both physically and mentally, therefore it will take much more to prepare for the run on that cold, wintry night in February.
I've been preparing for the run like any runner would do if he/she was preparing for a race or marathon. Every week I've been running on average about 16-20 miles a week and since I've gotten my approximate start times I've been trying to run at those times to get used to sleep deprivation come February 17th.

And like any dancer would know, I've participated in the dancer diet once again and cut out caffeine and fatty foods. "

Oh, the dancer diet.

But Brian recognizes that all of the hard work and preparation isn't about your feet or heart rates but about the kids and inspiration. (Even if Natalie, Berks four-year old THON child, won't give him hugs.)

The Berks Dancers from 2009 were invited by Natalie's family to attend her final spinal tap treatment.
"For inspiration to keep training, I've been watching THON videos and gathering inspirational stories that I've collected in the past years to put in a packet so I that can read in between legs whenever I feel like giving up.

But I only need three letters that will push me through the mountains and allow me to get to the BJC this year - FTK."

FTK Pride from Costa Rica
If you would like to help keep Brian inspired, I will be collecting cards for him as he finishes the second leg of his race. If anyone would like to join me to cheer Brian on, I know he would appreciate some excited faces as he finishes his sixth mile of the run.

You can also help Brian get even more excited for the run by making a contribution in his honor at THON.org Simply select organizations and credit "Hope Express - Brian Tran." Your donation will not only support Brian in his run but will support all the families who are currently seeking and receiving treatment at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

Together, we will make a difference in the life of a child - wether its through a 135 mile run, 46 hours on our feet or a year worth of fundraising.


  1. We had treatment with Gabe Angus and know their family well. Have you read this?


  2. No! I hadn't - thanks for sharing! After getting really interested in the Hope Express, I read some of their family bios and things (plus whats on the Hope Express website itself) but somehow I didn't catch that on the THON blog. Thanks!