When most people plan a trip to Walt Disney World Resort, they look forward to enjoying the wonderful parks and also some relaxing time spent by the pool. However, there are a special breed of people who look forward to waking up in the wee hours of the morning to join 20,000 of our newest friends for a fast-paced adventure through multiple parks before the sun even raises. And while many runners choose to run with friends or perhaps with a local running club, there are those of us who run for something other than fitness or fun. I, like many others along the course, choose to support a charity, and run on behalf of a specific cause.
runDisney partners with multiple charity organizations for all of their runDisney events throughout the year, which allows the charity groups to raise awareness for their respective causes. Each organization is provided a number of race bibs that they can use to recruit runners to their cause. These charity organizations range from the well known The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and St. Jude’s, to the lesser known Catch a Lift or A-T Children’s Project, which is my charity of choice.
When runners choose to run on behalf of a charity, they not only train for the run, but they are responsible for raising money on behalf of their chosen organization. In return for raising much needed funds for their chosen cause, runners get various perks for their time and effort. The charity groups provide specially-priced or complimentary hotel stays and in some cases, special training plans or local running coaches who provide free training tips. Additionally, runners receive specially-priced Walt Disney World Theme Park tickets and select discounts on other race weekend amenities. However, I think the best perk is being able to meet those who benefit from the charity group in pre-race dinners or other events.
In 2012, I decided to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. Unfortunately, the race was sold out by the time I went to register. Upon further exploration of the runDisney site, I discovered that by running for a charity organization, I could secure a race bib even after the race was sold out. I researched the charity groups that were partnering for that particular race, and decided that I wanted to run for A-T Children’s Project (ATCP). Before I ran, I knew that ATCP helped fund research for finding a cure for Ataxia-telangiectasia, or A-T, a rare genetic disease that attacks children, causing progressive loss of muscle control, immune system problems, and a high rate of cancer. Having children of my own, this mission immediately pulled at my heart strings, and I wanted to help those afflicted with such an awful disease.
During the following six months, I received various communications from ATCP, and was provided tools and ideas to help my fundraising efforts. As I got closer to meeting my fundraising goal, I grew more excited for the race and was eager to meet those involved with the organization. In January 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting not only the staff for ATCP, but also the families and children that I was helping to raise money. It was so humbling to meet those wonderful children and their devoted family and friends. While most of the runners knew each other because they had family or friends with A-T, I was not directly attached to a family supported by ATCP. However, despite being a relative stranger, everyone I met was so welcoming, and in fact, were thanking me for helping to raise money and attention to A-T. When I set out the next morning to run the half marathon, I couldn’t help but feel like I had an extra pep in my step. I saw those children and knew that I was running not only for my next PR, but also for them. As the race went on and I began to feel tired and I just wanted to rest, I thought of those children I had met the night before and how they were fighting every day of their lives and how they still had a smile on their face. It was just the motivation I needed to finish my race strong, and with a smile on my face.
In January of 2015, I ran my second Walt Disney World Half Marathon on behalf of the A-T Children’s Project. I was paired with the same family that I raised money for in 2012, so I knew just who I was running for and exactly where my fundraising dollars were going. When I walked into the welcome reception this time, there were hugs and warm greetings from my “old friends.” I feel so blessed to be able to help this organization, and I encourage you to find out for yourself just how motivating it can be to run for a charity group that is near and dear to your heart.