DIA to Disney: A Trip To The Past

14 01 2012

(My phone just downloaded an update to WordPress. If these posts look strange, sorry!)

I am on my way back to Disney after a year away. It feels like longer, but that could be because the Disney World Races are at the beginning of the year.  In this case, I am going to find out really how I feel about things. You see, Disney World was my first full Marathon.

I really didn’t feel like I belonged there. I probably didn’t! I had barely trained, was relying on my fitness from Pilates, and had just been fired from my job.

Although I was a part of Team in Training, my life and personality kept me from training with the team. Then there was the question of eating. Something most people dont think about with a “vacation.” I remember realizing that all that was guaranteed was a place to stay, one night’s dinner two days before my event and a post event meal. This meant that if I was going to eat, I would have to do as such at Disney prices.

I packed my bag the night before and I scrambled and put food into a second checked bag. I had the room to myself, so maybe I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly. I could say I needed time to myself or something to skirt not being able to afford going out with the team.

A few things happened that I probably chronicled here, but what I never have told is the story of Zach.

Post-race, when I was waddling, slowly, back to my hotel room in Port Orleans, I was followed by a guy who called out: “Excuse me, Miss.”

I turned around to see a guy kind of hobbling toward me. He was the first BK (below the knee) blade runner I had ever seen, much less met. He was wobbling off his right leg and I was wobbling off my left. Instinctively, I went back to help.

“Miss – between the two of us, we make one person!” I laughed. “Well we need each other. If I could share your leg, I will show you where the elevator is.”

It turned out that he was in the room next to mine and had been watching me wandering, alone, about the resort. Not in a creepy way, he said I looked like I was taking in all the flowers and trees most people were taking for granted.

I got him up to my door and he started to fall over. No matter how beaten up I felt, I realized that this guy was far worse. I got the door open and over to the chair. I would have used the second bed, but it was covered in snacks!

“Oh my God you have a lot of snacks!” I handed him a gatorade and bounded off to fill the ice buckets (I took his key).  My soreness was gone. 

I found out his name was Zach and he had just run both the 1/2 marathon followed by the full. Something now called “the Goofy.”  I said it should have been called the Insane!! He had lost his leg in Afghanistan.

After sharing my snacks, I helped him over to his room and proceeded to subject myself to the nightmare from hell, otherwise known as an ice bath.

As I left for the “Victory Party,” Zach was dressed and wobbling toward the restaurant. It just so happened my thing was near there, so we walked – slowly and wobbly – together. The “bash” was really too loud for me. Ok – actually the “music” was badly distorting and set my teeth on edge!

I saw a few people,  thanked the Puerto Rican team, and felt genuinely out of place. I felt a bit alone. I don’t get out very much, so I figured I would enjoy my last night of fantasy before the nonsense of real life set back in.  I wandered past the pool tables and there was Zach.

“Lis – in honor of your first Marathon, I want to show you the town – or at least treat you to a cocktail at the Irish place on the Island.” I laughed.

I am not the girl most guys takeout like that – especially at 195 pounds!! “We gotta go back to the rooms first though. I want to wear my Dress Leg.” Ha!

I had to throw a few things in my bag then showed up in my funky long dress covering sunburn and chaffing. 

“Where the hell is your medal Girl?”

Standing in front of me was a guy in white pants and Hawaiian shirt, clinking away with huge gold medals. He also had a cane. “Ok – it helps!” He flew into my room and found my medal on my checked luggage. “Damn it – be proud of yourself!”

Clink – clink – shuffle – shuffle – laugh. “We are like a Hawaiian Mary Poppins and Burt! Where are the pengins?”

We got to the boat and floated under a really nice Florida sky down to the shopping island. People were out partying.

“Lis – I will never forget the look of wonder in your eyes!” He told me a couple years later. “You wanted to see everything. I thought I would have to trade in my cane for a fishing pole! But you wouldn’t leave me!”

He found out three of my favorite characters were Dumbo, Lady, and Stitch. His favorites were Thumper, the surfing turtle from Nemo and Mike from Monsters, Inc.  

“Have you seen Finding Nemo? ” No. “Well you should. You remind me of Dori. Keep on Swimming, Girl!”

Turns out we both like the old animation, Chip and Dale, Slinky Dog and Star Wars.

He wanted to find something for his nephew and I found the “clearance” area. In there, we found a fish he said was Nemo. Ok.

We wandered about and saw amazing Lego dragon, and more colored plastic blocks than I had ever seen. He laughed.

We did get a cocktail and fish and chips at the Irish place. I was afraid to order and he said to the waitress:

“My sister here just finished her first ever marathon. She walked the whole thing in just a hair over six hours. Not a step of running. Only walking. I am the proudest big brother there is.”

I nearly died but there were cheers around me. It was then I noticed he had hidden his medals in his bag! He did more mileage, but said it was my moment. I still tear up. Nobody had ever done that for me.

Zach was full of surprises. As we left the pub, he said “Oh! This is for you. Don’t worry, it is from clearance.”  A pair of blue Stitch ears. I had been able to get a post race photo on a very old disposable camera with Stitch and now I had his fuzzy ears!

Yes, peeps, this is where my Original Stitch ears came from. I have always told the wandering part and clearance rack, but my friend was private to me. His request!

Zach lived in Hawaii. He was there for my first Goofy (“Yeah, Lis, like you would never do something do silly! “) and then my second he was sick. “Got a cold, Sistah Mine! ”

In 2010 – aka “The Frozen Goofy” – Zach couldn’t shake a cold. He was in the hospital. “Go have fun and stop hurting yourself! Spread Lizzyness!” Whatever that means.

The races were terrible. Frozen, sloppy messes. There were silver linins. I did meet my morning bus friend Larry and his family. On the course, I met a gal from TNT named Melissa who was doing her first marathon as a Goofy and was ready to quit. Try again! We hung out and, for the first time, I got to really “see” the second half of the course. She also took tons of photos. I never really thought I would see them, but within a week, I was sending photos of Thumper and me and Mike and me to the hospital where Zach was.

I was in constant text contact with my race brother. Something didn’t feel right. I felt super lonely, even though I went to EPCOT for a frozen dinner in Morocco. I also got a photo of me and Dori from a diorama.

My phone buzzed as I was by the huge Christmas tree thinking of how much fun Zach would have had with Patti, Roger and me.  “Hey Girly. Did you get to see Stitch?” Said a very weak voice. Nope, but I did know who Dori was. “Next year, Lis, you and me doing the Goofy together. Ask your friend for better weather! You better train! Long distance Pinky Promise.” I don’t enter into pinky promises lightly. “Pinky Promise, Zach!”

I found out from his family that he died of an aneurysm with the photos right there with him.

I was standing in the Denver Airport going to a race when I got a call from his “gentleman friend”   “You meant a lot to Zach, Miss Shepard.” Yeah. Right. Whatever. I am just me.

I couldn’t face Disney again. Didn’t feel like training. Figured that I was only good for helping people. That isn’t bad in and of itself, it just is what it is.

When my pal died, I took a good hard look at what was going on and shifted hard. I also kept getting sick. Probably more to do with the ill effects of stress and life.

In 2011, my buddy Patti called to say “Lizzy – you coming back to Disney? They are doing a relay with Chip and Dale on the medal.” Patti didn’t know about Zach. She didn’t know how hard it is to go back. She did know my last Disney was rough. She just registered us while I was on the phone!

So – here I sit in Denver International Airport waiting for an 8 am flight to Disney World. Again, I truly cannot afford this trip. Again, I have not trained. Again, a lot of drama is swirrling about that I just need to sort out.  I am going for the 5k, 1/2, and first 1/2 of the full … and to make some decisions.



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