The Noblest Pursuit

Five and a half years ago I found myself stepping on to the Penn State campus as a freshman. How I ended up there, I can’t quite be sure. Perhaps it was the higher tuition of my beloved University of Iowa, possibly the proximity to my family’s home in Mars, PA, or maybe the prestige of the Mechanical Engineering program. I recall saying farewell to a teary-eyed mother and a stoic father who simply said “you know what you’re here for”. I came to Penn State weak. I was self-absorbed, close-minded, and far from altruistic. Four and a half years at Penn State changed this forever.

The Noblest Pursuit

Once my stay at Penn State commenced, a transformation began. My eyes opened and I began to see the world through a whole new lens. I finally started to realize there was so much more to life than personal glory and achievement. In fact, I realized that there is much more to be gained by the exultation of others and the act of becoming wholly altruistic. It is at Penn State where I found my love of philanthropy.

The recent passing of Joe Paterno brought back memories of the Penn State philanthropy I loved most, THON.  THON is a 46 hour dance marathon designed to raise money to combat pediatric cancer. It is also an event designed to take cancer off the minds of suffering kids, even if only for 46 hours. Dancers dance for 46 hours straight with no sleeping, sitting, or resting as a way to take on the pain of these children. THON is essentially a two day celebration of life filled with dancing, activities, song, and community as well as a time to remember the children we’ve lost. Since 1977 THON has raised over $78 million for children with cancer. (See video to get a better idea of THON.)

In recalling the moments in which I interacted with Joe Paterno, one memory stuck out to me most. I thought back to 2009 when I was a dancer in THON for my cross country team and Joe was there during the late hours for a pep speech. He was never all that good with words but they carried immense meaning. He said to us that day: “I wish the whole world could see and feel what’s in this room right now. Love and commitment and dedication, it just reeks from this room. 58 years at Penn State and I’ve never been more proud than right now. Never been more proud than the warmth in this arena and to see what you folks have done. When those families came up, I had a tough time keeping my composure. God bless every single one of you.”

When I reflect on Joe’s life, I don’t think of the football coach, rather, the humanitarian and philanthropist. What I take from him, is that there is no greater purpose in life than to help others through your actions. You, as a runner, are in a position where you can do tremendous good for others. It is the charge of those who are able, to take on the pain of those who are suffering.  If you are struggling to find motivation to fuel your running, putting a purpose behind your running can provide motivation you never thought imaginable. The rewards of doing so are infinite and allows you to experience the range of human emotion. 

It will bring you to tears, give you a smile larger than you could ever imagine, and make you feel complete. My challenge to you this week is to in some way, shape, or form make someone else’s life better. It can be as simple as exchanging a smile or perhaps something as big as fundraising to run a race for charity.  Personally, I have decided that out of all profits I make from my writing and speaking, 5% will be going to LIVESTRONG and 5% will be going to THON. In the meantime I will be dancing in LA THON this weekend to further combat pediatric cancer. I encourage you to follow in the footsteps of great humanitarians in athletics such as Ryan Hall, Lance Armstrong, Joe Paterno, and many more. You will find that there is nothing in life more gratifying than to make someone else’s life better.

Always in Stride,

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