The Magic of Running Disney Even When Hurting

Anyone who has ever come to Disney knows the magic of Disney. Maybe there really is pixie dust that wafts supernaturally through the overhead stars, but even adults come to a Disney resort or park with a sense of giddiness. On my journey of grief and discovering who I am as Linda without her Phil, choosing to come to the Dopey Running Challenge last year and this year, was an intentional pursuit of my heart. Disney running is about more than another race, another challenge. These miles represent the magic, hurt, and hope of Disney. These miles represent my belief in myself, the hurt of remembering so much shared laughter and joy, and they are a way to embrace the hope of my future,

Four years ago, I came to Disney to run the Goofy Challenge because it was on my Bucket List and Phil gave it to me as his last Christmas present to me. He wanted me to have something to train for and to be excited for during the first few days of a year long deployment. It was an unexpected gift because I had already completed my Florida marathon, but he wanted to see the spark of surprise and delight when I discovered he had made reservations and signed me up for this race. As a child, I was envious of those that got to go to the Disney parks, and while we had spent magical time at Disney parks, this gift he gave me was different. It was just for me.

Part of the delight was in seeing if my body could do it and if Disney would be as magical without my family. It was different. Part of doing the Goofy, and now the Dopey Challenge, is in training the body to push through pain and to keep one’s heart focused on the prizes at the end. Doing these races teach a person that kindred spirits can have fun even while hurting. My heart aches with loneliness and bittersweet memories when I come back to the Disney resorts, but it is the spark of fun that helps diminish the pain and give a glimpse into a new normal.

Disney is perhaps the place where people in pain can reset their batteries and find laughter and a spark of something. It is hard not to feel a little something seeping in to those dark crevices when every person around you is embracing the experience and behaving out of character. Grown men and women dress in costumes of all kinds. People stand in line for a long time to get photos with the Disney characters or to ride a roller coaster midrace. You see, it isn’t about the times, it is about what this race (s) represent. These races represent a time far from worry, far from pain, and far from responsibility. These races represent a simpler time.

While I am in the middle of doing these races for the third time, I know I will be back because I see something I like when I come here. I see a girl who is unafraid of sparkles, polka dots, roller coasters, travel, and life. I am the girl who with each race is stronger, better able to navigate the pain and miles, and a girl who can do more with each passing independent trip. I see a girl who can push through her fear and a girl who gets as giddy as a child when I get here. I see a girl who can find joy even with a tender hurting heart. I see a girl who can press through the fog of pain to a magical place beyond. I like that girl—I am that girl at Disney.

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