Living in Central Florida is unique (as is living anywhere else I suppose)!
I have the opportunity and access to Disney year round. Now, I’m not really a Disney Gal and so this opportunity is generally wasted on me, but I do take as much advantage of the Sports Enthusiast Program as I can. Disney hosts a number of large events through the year, some are RunDisney Events, and others are sports events such as the the Special Olympics, and Softball tourneys or Track and Field Championships. They all actually rely on volunteers to make the large events run smoothly.
Volunteers handle refreshments, some (very minor) medical duties, medals, escorting athletes, cheering, water stops, registration and packet pick up. They place wristbands on racers, provide mylar wraps and cooling towels, do traffic control in parking lots and in general do anything asked with a smile on their faces.
I enjoy volunteering at Disney because they are super organized and they do really reward volunteers. For big events, there is always a nice piece of Disney Apparel (usually a jacket, sometimes a T-shirt instead) and a ticket for a one day one park pass (about a $99.00 value to a Florida Resident). For smaller events, there is apparel and hours to be earned. once you hit 16 hours, you have earned another one day one park pass.
In truth, I have always given my passes away for people to enjoy- this year I am working to get 3-4 passes so a family I know who experienced great loss can get the kids to Disney for just a day of total fun. So I have actually spent more time in the parking lots and back areas of Disney volunteering than I have spent being inside the parks.
This weekend I was able to volunteer for the Enchanted 10K and the Princess Half Marathon! There are female oriented races and apparently this year a total dress up festival. I was not feeling great (simple but miserable head cold) but I had a lot of fun.
On Saturday I arrived at 3am (Yes 3 am) and get my Bright yellow Zip up jacket which says “Volunteer” and had the Enchanted logo on the other side. I was told to take a snack box which was filled with unusual but very yummy treats. I then proceeded to be assigned a volunteer area. In my case it was refreshments. The people in front of me were giving the assigner a hard time saying, “We did XYZ yesterday and I just don’t want to do that again…” I just took whatever assignment she gave because after all…I am volunteering. I got refreshments…which is at the end of the race where racers come through and you hand them foods. In this case it was tons and tons of bananas.
I unpacked banana after banana. Now I’m allergic to bananas. So this was kind of funny. I just was very careful not to touch my face or eyes. I didn’t know anyone on our volunteer crew which was mostly high school students or retired couples, but everyone was very pleasant and we had an easy time chatting as we unloaded banana after banana. It was kind of funny as we were all in the yellow jackets at the same time! Our Team Lead, Rick, for this event was GREAT. I’ve worked with him before at Disney. I was acutually thrilled to see I was on his team! He circulated around the area and spent a nice amount of time chatting with everyone on his team. I could see he had a way of making everyone feel very included and needed. This is a great quality in a Team Lead.
Eventually the runners came through and I handed out bananas for several hours. I had never done a shorter race than a Half Marathon at Disney so I kept thinking these people were returning from a 13.1 mile run, not a 6.2 one. I was a bit surprised at how hungry some of the runners were, and they seemed to have run more than 6.2…but then again…it was a warm and humid day. Many folks are from up north and our humidity just sent them into a tizzy. It is different running down here.
As the race ended, we cheered the final finishers…folded up the table cloths, and packed up the snack boxes and we dismissed by Rick. I went straight home and went to bed because I knew I had another early wake up the next day.
Day two was going to be more fun because my friends were joining me. Day two was a day of lessons!
Firstly, my telephone died somewhere in the middle of the night, so I awoke at 2:24 am in a panic trying to look at the clock (on my dead phone). M. was picking me up at 2:30. So WOW…Was I ever awake!
For the Half Marathon we had chosen “Heat sheets/cool towels” at the finish line. Our first job was to simply unpack the cool towels (it was to be a hot day though us Floridians were chilled to the bone at 70 degrees and foggy.) We worked together and it was really fun to spend some time with my 2 friends who I don’t always see. After a bit we got everything unpacked and had a few moments of rest.
3 time Olympian Kim Smith set a Course Record and beat everyone, including the men who chose to run this race.
After about 30-40 more minutes, the mere mortal running princesses started to come in. We handed out the “cool towels” which were kind of not so nice- they are chemically treated to cool instantly…so the smell was kind of like a wet-nap… But I imagine if I was feeling overheated the cooling of that would feel great. Lots of towels got handed out. At some point we were pulled to distribute Medals. Now. Originally my friend had wanted to give out medals. I also thought yes giving medals would be fun. My third friend was ALL about MEDALS.
So we were excited.
Then we got handed armloads of medals. They are rather heavy in large amounts. So after a big my back started to ache. Just as I thought I was done…a nice man would always come by to give me more.
We were told not to place the medals around peoples necks, (and that was the part that kind of made me a wee bit annoyed…)and really we couldn’t as they were coming through so quickly and in such droves. So I felt a little lame doling out medals much in the same way we handed out the cooling towels. It was a blast thought to see people react to their medals. Some ladies were crying, laughing, and squealing. I’m not really into the bling, but I felt pretty emotional seeing these “Princesses” achieve something important to them. In addition, I had a real understanding of what kind of training it takes, especially when you are training for your first, so when someone looked at the medal with that gleam in their eyes, I still made sure to place it around their neck. All of the runners paid over 100 USD to run that race, and as far as I am concerned if getting a medal placed around their neck did it for them, well then…I was going to do it with a magical smile.
We eventually were able to leave medal duty and go back to Cool towel duty at which point we packed up and were done!
We were bussed back to our parking area and then drove home. We all agreed we had earned that park pass that day.
Even though we all discovered, as my friend put it, “Medals aren’t the greatest job” I think we still had a good time. It’s a great way to be a part of Run Disney without mortgaging your home.
Today Disney announced a New Half Marathon for Disney Land- the Avengers Half Marathon! With a Price tag of around $190.00 per person. Yeah…I think the volunteer gig is the better deal.