How the 2009 Walt Disney World Half Marathon Saved My Life

Let me start at the beginning. Weight has always been an issue in my life. I’ve struggled with it since I was in junior high school. Athletics were always on a back-burner, preferring instead to focus on academics and educational pursuits. I graduated high school with above a 4.0 GPA and pursued medicine, later changing to law. I graduated the Seattle University School of Law with honors in 2003. I had attempted diets and exercise programs at times, sometimes losing 40 pounds or more but always gaining it back, usually and then some.

Around 2005, at 340 pounds, my doctor diagnosed me with mild hypertension, and advised me to lose the weight and prescribed hypertension medication. I was 26.

In January 2007, where our story begins, I had ballooned up above 370 pounds. I had never been this heavy in my life. My doctor told me I had to make some changes and fast, or risk losing everything sooner than I wanted to.

A large part of me wanted to sink into depression. I knew that every day I couldn’t control what I ate or how little I moved was pushing me further away from my family and closer to an early grave. It may seem dramatic, but I believe I was at one of those decision points everyone has in their lives where you either rise above a challenge, or be swept away by a current of destruction.

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While this was going on, in a parallel area of my life, I had been bitten by the Disney bug. My wife and I visited Walt Disney World for our Honeymoon in 2006, and although I had grown up visiting many times, it was her first visit. The magic and romance of the World seeps into your soul and often inspires even more magic. I had prepared for the trip by surfing websites and listening to unofficial Disney internet radio shows (Podcasts). Lots of them.

After returning from our trip, I began making friends with some of the Podcasters, and even began doing voice work on several shows in my spare time. Escaping after a long week of work into the Wonderful World of Disney seemed not only appropriate, but a welcome respite.

And then, in January 2007, my good friend Lou Mongello (host of the WDWRadio show) announced that he was training for the 2008 Walt Disney World Half Marathon. I had no idea such a thing existed, and immediately started researching it.

Please understand that I have always hated running. But when I found websites and videos of this race (disneyrunning.com, for instance), and spoke to people I admired who had raced like the wonderful Mike Scopa, I saw an opportunity to make a change. Sure, I hate running, but running through Cinderella Castle? Now there’s something to get excited about. Main Street became a mantra for me – a focal point of my visualizations. Running on Main Street is what I wanted to accomplish.

In February 2007, I announced to the world (and my family and friends) my intentions to train for and run in the January 2009 Walt Disney World Half Marathon. I had no idea where to begin, but knew I was starting at 370.3 pounds. My wife was immediately supportive, as was my family.

Soon thereafter, I realized that I had the opportunity to do some good with my project as well, and further inspire myself in the process. I begin soliciting donations and sponsorships from friends, attorneys, family, anyone who would listen – who began sponsoring me at $1.00 a pound or more. I joined forces with Lou Mongello’s Disneyworldtrivia.com Dream Team Project, and declared that 100% of the money raised would be donated to Make-A-Wish®, with the goal being the sponsorship of one seriously ill child spending a week in Walt Disney World because of my efforts.

I even started my own blog so that I could track my progress from the beginning and give others a way to track me. I knew that the more accountable I held myself, the more dedicated and devoted I would become.

Shortly after this, I joined forces with Bryan Ripper of the All About the Mouse Disney Podcast, and became his co-host. Before I knew it I had listeners sponsoring me, and announcing their intentions to run either with Lou in 2008 or with me in 2009 or both. Websites and blogs began springing up, and I was truly humbled at the response our community seemed to be creating.

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Two good friends, and listeners, Kate Tillan (who ran in 2008), and Rae Milano (who is running with me in 2009) have been instrumental in my success. Kate drafted a poem called “Will you run for me” about a young girl with Leukemia who knows that every morning I get up and train gets her one step closer to being a princess. A framed copy of that poem hangs in my exercise room. I have included the text at the conclusion of this article.

Rae started an effort in my name called “Team Voice 2009,” which is a gathering of Disney fans who are committed to lifelong health, running Disney races, and supporting each other. It is so named because I am known as “the voice” for my vocal work on many Disney Podcasts. I was so honored to hear Rae start this, and even more so when a member came up with the slogan: “Many Goals, One Voice”.

Team Voice members are raising collectively tens of thousands of dollars for various charities, including Make-a-Wish®. And the numbers are staggeringly large. We have more support than I ever dreamed when I started this journey.

As for me, as I write this there are about 315 days remaining until I arrive in Walt Disney World prepared to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on January 10, 2009. I am already registered. I have my ChampionChip. I even have my plane tickets. I have never run a competitive race before, and will not run one until the Disney Half Marathon.

I have made significant progress.

In February 2007, I could run approximately 10-20 seconds.

Today I can run 20-30 minutes without a walking break. I can log over 4 miles in just under an hour. I own a treadmill. I have joined a gym. I have a personal trainer.

I run usually 3-4 days a week. I listen to Disney music while I run. I have a framed print of Cinderella Castle next to me to look at with a quote from Walt inscribed on it. “All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.”

Oh yeah, and I’ve lost just shy of 80 pounds so far. I weigh approximately 290 pounds, which is the lowest I’ve weighed in over a decade.

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Last Friday, my doctor took me off my blood pressure medication, noting after an EKG that my heart rate was slow enough and strong enough that it resembled that of a professional athlete.

Am I done losing weight? Not by a long shot.

Am I ready for the race? Getting there.

But already the training and the passion I have for this race have made such an impact on me physically, emotionally, and spiritually, that I can honestly say that this race, in a way nothing else has ever been able to, has inspired me. Has saved my life.

And I know as I keep preparing, as I end every blog post, and as I remember every day:

MAIN STREET AWAITS!??



Will You Run For Me

Will you run for me tomorrow? Will you run for me???

I am six years old now.

I love to dress like a princess.?

Mommy says I’m too young to go to Disneyland.?

She says we will go when I’m older.?

I want to be older now.??

Will you run for me tomorrow? Will you run for me???

I’m in Kindergarten now and learning to read and write.?

I love to run and play with my friends.?

It feels as if life will go on forever.?

?

Will you run for me tomorrow? Will you run for me???

I don’t know it now, but when I am eight years old I will be diagnosed with leukemia.??

Will you run for me???

The cancer treatments are terrible. I don’t feel well.?

Mommy says the drugs are killing the bad cancer cells.??

Will you run for me??

I just want the pain to stop.?

I want to feel good and happy again.??

Will you run for me???

My daddy said that you will run for me.?

He said that you will raise money so that we can go to Disneyland.?

Thank you. Thank you for caring about me.?

Thank you for letting me be a princess again.?

I love you.??


A poem by Kate Tillan,

inspired by Jonathan’s courageous journey to the 2009 Walt Disney World half-marathon.

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