November 10, 2011
It’s 5:30 a.m. and a voice – the Fairy Godmother’s voice, in fact – calls out.
“Five. Four. Three. Two. One.” As fireworks light the early-morning sky, 20,000 people – many dressed in costume – blast off in a timely fashion from separate corrals. They’re running in what’s billed as the ‘Happiest Race on Earth.’
It’s Disney’s Princess Half Marathon at Walt Disney World in Florida and Rebecca Waldie, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics graduate program assistant, gave it her all. She would finish the 13 miles in less than two hours and 40 minutes.
But it wasn’t an easy road for her to get there.
“I wasn’t very athletic as a child,” she says. “I was very clumsy and not very good at sports.”
But concerned about her family’s health history, she joined a gym and simply – or not so simply – got fit. “Oddly enough, it was a random advertisement (for the Princess race) I saw on Facebook,” Waldie says.
Her unquestionable love for Disney’s theme parks and wonderful memories of favourite characters caught her attention. And she is now hooked. In addition to her run last February in Florida, she also participated in the Coast-to-Coast Challenge, running at Walt Disneyland in California this past September. She plans to run again in Florida in January 2012.
Although her boyfriend attended both races – running himself in California – she regrets her parents didn’t get to see her finish. “I just wish I could see their faces when I crossed the line,” she says.
Waldie trained on a treadmill, tracking her distance. “It starts with 20 minutes a day, three days a week,” she says.
But paying no attention to form, she injured her knee, needing “five or so months of physio.” Then, about one week before the race, she noticed a pain around her ankle.
“I thought maybe it was just too much running,” she says. “I couldn’t even put a shoe on my foot.”
She wrapped her foot in sports bandages and tripled up on sock layers for cushioning. Determined to carry on, Waldie used rest, pain pills and adrenalin got her to the start line.
“I can’t tell you how crazy that feeling when you’re standing there with 20,000 other people around you. Oh my goodness, it was amazing. I have never felt such a rush as at the start of that race. It was awesome,” she says.
“I found that women tend to be more outgoing with costuming,” Waldie continues, adding the race in Florida was about empowering women. Since the majority of competitors were female, there were far more runners dressed up than during the California race.
Among her favourites: Princess Leia.
“I know it was a princess theme race, but Princess Leia? I was really impressed. She was running in a full length dress,” Waldie laughs. “I mean I saw girls who had pylons they’d spray-painted, tied to their heads as Fairy Godmothers. There was one guy that was a good six-plus-feet tall and he was in a full head to toe Cinderella costume. Wig, full dress, everything.”
A Rapunzel fan, Waldie likewise braided flowers in her hair, wore a silver tiara and ran in a tutu for the Florida race.
“Then for the California race, I decided to be a little more adventurous and I made my own skirt and went as Mini Mouse,” she admits.
Waldie felt the California race was a little depressing, running a fair bit on the financially strapped streets of Anaheim. “It was like running through the industrial streets down by White Oaks,” she says.
But because Disney owns all the highways around the theme park in Florida, there were many characters providing runners with hoots and cheers. The costumes and the characters are a nice distraction for Waldie’s psyche.
“You can hit a wall,” she says. “And it hurts when you hit that wall. Everything just dies on you and, even if you emotionally want to go, you don’t have the physical ability.”
One highlight of the California race was running into Anaheim’s baseball stadium. “They had a video camera on the third baseline,” she says, “and it was broadcasting on the Jumbotron. You’re on the Jumbotron, just like a superstar.”
Waldie believes Florida’s highlight was running down Disney’s Main Street, just before sunrise, towards the Cinderella Castle. “Everyone shares that spirit of love for the park,” she says. “So really, at that point, that’s when it’s the happiest race on Earth.”
Leslie Kostal, web administrative assistant, Department of Economics, writes periodic pieces profiling Western staff members. If you, or someone you know, has an interesting story to tell, please e-mail her at Leslie.Kostal@uwo.ca.