When you wish upon a star

While most of my focus had been on the Marathon Weekend there was another important aspect to last week’s trip — it was my first venture into Disney World.

In all honesty, I had no idea what to expect. As I wrote before the trip, never did the idea of going to Disney World thrill me with childhood excitement. Nothing at all against Disney, it’s just that it was never a childhood dream of mine to go there. It would never have shown up on my bucket list.

Perhaps that the drawback of the bucket list. You limit yourself to things you already know you want to do.

As a member of the sports media the mere presence of ESPN doesn’t excite me. After all, I know a lot of people who work there and run into ESPN crews from time to time. And yet, having the marathon expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex was, well, cool. It reinforced the athlete part of the weekend, the notion that we are all athletes if we give ourselves a little credit and take the opportunity.

The ESPN Disney site hosts tournaments of all kinds — from basketball and volleyball to track, soccer and softball. Often, collegiate conferences will host their championships at Disney, giving their student-athletes a unique experience.

On Friday, the site hosted a series of children’s races — from a 100-meter dash for 1-3 year olds up to a mile for older kids. Since our friends had a 3-year old in the race, we made our way over there and got to see Cassie run her first competitive event. (If by competitive you mean running with other kids alongside their parents and getting a medal at the end. Which, in my book, counts. Especially if you’re 3.)

While there, I had the chance to meet the Mouse himself — yes Mickey showed up for a little bit and the crowds were off some place else, allowing me to get my picture taken with him. He actually gave me a kiss on the check, then kissed my hand. And even for someone who is an indifferent Disney fan, well, that was something completely unexpected, something which put me back into what we often call our childhood state.

The next two days were spent in race mode — preparation, race, recover, repeat. But during those days Mark talked to me about going to one of the Disney parks on Monday. Our flight didn’t leave until the evening, giving us time to hit a theme park. Plus, in a first-year promotion those who completed the marathon received one free admission to a park on Monday. That gave us one free pass.

Still, I wasn’t sure.

“You can’t come down to Disney and NOT go to a park,” Mark said. “I think you’d regret it. We should go to one. You pick.”

I wasn’t sure what my resistance was about, but I knew that Mark was right. So I decided on Magic Kingdom for the essential Disney experience.

We had run down Main Street during the half marathon and then through Cinderella’s Castle. This time we strolled. We stopped and looked. We both wore our race medals and were congratulated by Disney people and fellow runners.

We wandered around and found ourselves in a line for the ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It was a herky-jerky roller coaster with a mining theme that included an oink-ing pig at one point. That made me laugh out loud, for a while, and immediately I settled in.

We went through Pirates of the Caribbean and climbed the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, the later of which is kinda boring and not recommended for those who just ran, say, a marathon or half marathon, or both.

We went through “it’s a small world” — the quintessential Disney ride with it’s lazy boat ride, technicolor brightness, feeling of sugar everywhere and a slight helping of culture stereotyping. It’s days later and that song is still stuck in the back of my brain.

Our final adventure of the day was Space Mountain. And let me just say this: Space Mountain. Best. Ride. Ever.

When you enter Disney World there is a saying from Walt Disney which implores you to leave behind today, leave behind your reality, and enter into this world of fantasy.

The gift for some is respite from their world of reality. But upon returning home we can be more than refreshed. We can have awakened the creativity and fun and adventure — what we often call the child in us — and start living our dreams with a new sense of energy and excitement.

Yes, Disney can be more than just about the Mouse or a theme park. They are merely tools to bring you back to a place of personal authenticity, the place inside of you from which you live your best life.

The race, the vacation, doesn’t have to completely end. It’s just the beginning of something new.

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