The Disney Princess Half Marathon presented by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals

So what was my STEP project?

For my STEP experience, I traveled to Orlando, Florida to participate in the 2015 Disney Princess Half Marathon sponsored by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH). In addition to running my first half marathon, I interviewed two professionals associated with the race, CMNH or Disney.  I hoped to further understand the connection between three of my personal interests: The Walt Disney Company, philanthropic events, and the support of children’s hospitals.

I had read about races that traveled through the Disney Parks and marveled at what a fantastic accomplishment experiencing one would be.  At the time, I had dismissed the idea of participating completely. I had no experience in long-distance running (or any running at all for that matter), and I did not believe I would be physically able to complete a 13.1 mile trek.  However, I was prompted by my STEP mentor to consider a personal challenge when choosing a STEP project.  I could think of no greater personal challenge than running a half marathon.  Additionally, I was equally fascinated by the Disney Princess Half Marathon specifically.

The half marathon weekend was sponsored by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the same philanthropic organization that sponsored Ohio State’s BuckeyeThon . I had participated in their 24-hour dance marathon for two years and had just recently completed an internship with Make-A-Wish.  I was on the path to declaring a Non-Profit Studies minor and was slowly finding myself enthralled with the world of philanthropy.  Having been inspired by the families I encountered through Make-A-Wish, I was particularly interested in working with organizations that supported children’s hospitals.  So as I researched The Disney Princess Half Marathon and discovered the relationship they shared with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, I decided that I would dig deeper.  In choosing the Disney Princess Half Marathon as my STEP project, I wanted to further research their connection; Why did Disney specifically choose CMNH?  How does the race benefit the organization, if at all? And do families struggling with pediatric illness find support from events like this?  To answer these questions, I contacted three different organizations/institutions to interview professionals in the field.


Why was this project important to me?

In terms of running my first half marathon, STEP provided an opportunity to challenge a deeply rooted perception of myself.  I grew up dreading any situation that required me to run, and I never thought my endurance would last more than a few minutes.  It was a belief I staunchly held even into my college years—until I decided to run a half marathon for my STEP experience.  Over the course of eleven months, I met with personal trainers and created a regimented schedule to incorporate running into my life for the first time.  On February 23rd, 2015 I received my medal for completing my first half marathon (in addition to multiple ice-packs for my throbbing knees). But most importantly, I left Orlando with a sense of accomplishment, confident in my ability to change the way I lived and viewed myself.

The information I gained from my informal interviews was both enlightening and inspiring.

The first of these interactions was with a Senior Director of Corporate Strategy from Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  Over lunch, we discussed the reasoning behind the partnership of CMHN and Disney.  Because both cater to a family-centered demographic, the partnership spreads awareness to an appropriate audience.  Additionally, the main priority of CMHN is not necessarily to fundraise, but again to spread awareness of their mission to a very large audience.  (I was personally surprised by this information.  I had assumed the main benefit was monetary!)  The partnership was less than five years old, which was considered “young” by the organization’s standards.  With the spreading of awareness for CMHN and positive publicity Disney received as a result, it was clear to me why the partnership was created.

The second interview was with a team of Child Life Specialist at the Florida Hospital for Children.  A wing of this hospital is known as the “Walt Disney Pavilion”, which drew my attention as I was researching connections between Disney and children’s hospitals.  I spent an afternoon interviewing and observing four different Child Life Specialists at the hospital, all of whom shared with me how they strive to make the experience for hospital patients more enjoyable.  I was told about the Walt Disney Pavilion, and how $10 million had been donated to create a Disney-themed lobby for a wing of the hospital.  Interestingly, the lobby did not contain Disney’s main characters like Mickey Mouse or any of the princesses.  Disney’s thought behind this choice was to allow the pediatric patients to feel that they were the main character of the story.

As I walked the floors of the hospital with the Child Life time, I learned about the events the Child Life team used to make a patient’s stay in the hospital more fun.  For example, characters from various parks like SeaWorld, Universal Studios, and Disney would often visit. That day, I was lucky enough to run into a team of Storm Troopers from Stars Wars that had come to pass out Star Wars action figures!  As fun as these events were, it seemed to me that a majority of the patient activities were hosted by the Child Life team, who would organize daily art projects in their activity room or bring various video games to a patient’s room.  They analyzed seemingly minute details of the hospital experience and strove to make every possible moment less frightening.  As an example, the team shared with me that the patients rarely received any needle sticks or painful procedures in their own rooms.  Many children fear that a doctor may sneak into their room while they are sleeping and give them a shot or “hurt them”.  To alleviate this fear and allow the child to have a safe space, the hospital floor has designated procedure rooms and tries to reserve patient rooms for sleeping or relaxing. There were numerous examples of the ways Child Life Specialists improve the hospital experience, and I was floored by all of them!  But unfortunately, their services are not often covered by insurance.  I learned that hospitals rely on their own funding and outside donations to provide for services such as a Child Life team.  It was here that I understood why the funding that organizations like CMNH and others provide is so vital.


What now?

In terms of my personal life, I know I will be moving forward—literally! I enjoyed my time at the Half Marathon so much that I plan to train for another in coming years. Where I had once dreaded (if not feared) running, I now enjoy the exercise and the stress-relief it brings.  STEP also provided the funds to utilize a personal trainer in the months leading up to the race, and the information I gained throughout those sessions still stays with me.  I know how to train in a healthy way and how to avoid injury when running long distances.  I plan to include running as part of a healthy lifestyle for many years to come.

Academically, I learned so much in terms of professional relationships; the relationship between the race and the charity, the hospital and Disney, the charities and hospital services…the list goes on!  All of these connections not only led to answers, but to more questions.  Questions I hope to answer as I graduate and pursue my career path in May 2016. Every aspect of my STEP experience included something that I hope to expand upon as I move forward.  Whether it’s a healthier lifestyle or a more specific career path, STEP truly provided me with the opportunity to transform.

Want to hear more?

Thanks to OSU’s digital story workshops, I was able to create a video documenting my experience with the half marathon. Enjoy!

A few photos:


Runners were able to run through the iconic Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom right around mile 5!

Runners were able to run through the iconic Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom right around mile five!

The lobby of the Walt Disney Pavilion at the Florida Hospital for Children

The lobby of the Walt Disney Pavilion at the Florida Hospital for Children

Even the team from Children's Miracle Network Hospitals was ready to race!

Even the team from Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals was ready to race!

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