The idea of Disney World might elicit two kinds of responses — hand-clasping excitement or cynical eye-rolling. I will wager that after spending an hour with Zach Meehan and Morgan McCluskey, even the most die-hard cynic will consider booking his next vacation in the Magic Kingdom. Zach and Morgan’s enthusiasm for all things Disney is utterly, unabashedly charming. To this 20-something couple, Disney represents family, consistency, finding joy, learning about the world, seeing people at their best and making the best of themselves.
Thanks to the allure of Disney, Zach and Morgan have been making the best of themselves in a very tangible way since last spring. Neither of them had ever been a runner before last spring. Now they are running up to 20 miles a week. On Saturday, Jan. 12, they will run their first ever half marathon — 13.1 miles — as part of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.
Zach’s Disney attachment goes way back. In fact, his earliest memory is being at a Disney park at the age of 2. He used to go every three years or so with his mom, brother and grandmother.
“I always liked the times between trips because it was like two years of Christmas Eve,” Zach said.
Zach is one of the most cheerful people I have ever met. He smiles easily, chats prolifically, jokes a lot and draws laughter regularly in conversation. He is one of those people who never lost that twinkle of childlike wonder even as an adult.
To Zach, the child side of every person has great value. It often represents the best of who we can be — trusting, game for anything, open-hearted and filled with hopeful expectation. That is what Disney draws forth from people. Since “Snow White” first came out in 1937, said Zach, “There’s been 75 years of people who have been kids with Disney.”
When Zach brought Morgan on her first ever Disney trip in January 2010, he asked her not to look at any park information ahead of time, so that everything would be a surprise.
“She walked in wide-eyed like a kid,” he said. They grinned at each other at the memory. “It’s like walking through a 3D version of stories.”
On that first trip, they wondered why so many people were wearing medals around their necks, and learned about the Disney marathon weekend.
“I thought it was cool, but I couldn’t run,” said Zach. “I’m not a runner.”
After a second Disney trip in 2011, Morgan was completely hooked on Disney, but the couple couldn’t justify yearly trips — unless, perhaps, they had a special reason to return. That’s when the marathon idea returned to their minds.
“We’ll get in shape, AND have a vacation,” they told themselves.
For a while it was just talk. Then Morgan bought Zach running shoes for Christmas. To recover from ACL surgery, she started attending Zumba classes. Slowly, they began to take the idea seriously.
“I was really self-conscious about running at first,” Morgan said. “I didn’t really know how.” Then she started joining some of her Zumba friends on runs. She couldn’t really keep up, but they stayed with her and kept her spirits up.
Zach remembers his earliest runs.
“You feel like you’ve been going for a while, then you look at your watch and it’s been a minute and 20 seconds … I was really out of shape.”
They persevered, they urged each other on, they got smartphones with a motivational zombie running app (“Your helicopter crashed. The zombies are coming for you — you have to run!”). Morgan introduced Zach to Bangor City Forest, and he discovered the beauty of the outdoors as he had never experienced it before.
Now, between them, they have covered several hundred miles, lost 30 pounds, and are psyched to meet the Disney challenge next week.
There is even more significance to this event for both Zach and Morgan. For Morgan, it is a celebration of finishing her teaching degree a couple of weeks ago.
“I’m done! I’m a teacher!”
For Zach, it is a celebration of seeing something through. Too often, he says, he starts things and never sees them to completion.
“My life has had a lot of beginnings. This feels good, like an actual finishing.”
Zach and Morgan have clearly been invaluable to each other in the pursuit of this goal. Morgan urged Zach on to start down the path; Zach urges Morgan to keep on going once they’re on the road. They are a team, and plan to run as a team.
“He can go faster than me,” said Morgan, “but he’s going to stay with me.”
Teamwork, perseverance, hopeful striving toward a goal — it’s another inspiring Disney story, and it looks like it’s on track for a happy ending.