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By David Cordani
For the past 11 years, Cigna has proudly presented the Walt Disney World® Marathon Weekend, which attracts more than 60,000 participants and spectators from all over the world. The weekend's events include a 5K, 10K, half, and full marathon race over four days. This year, we had more than 1,000 "Team Cigna" members at the event – a group that included customers, employer clients, health care providers, our co-workers, and their family and friends. We were also honored to be joined by members of Achilles International and their Freedom Team. Achilles International helps people with different disabilities participate in running events, and the Freedom Team is a program within Achilles that has been adapted to the specific needs of wounded members of the U.S. military. Cigna has a long and proud history with Achilles and the Freedom Team members.
The Walt Disney World® Marathon weekend has always shown me so much – endless possibilities, as well as the importance of goal-setting, preparation, support, will, a little luck, and good old-fashioned effort. It's amazing what people can accomplish with the right planning, motivation, and support.
I began the weekend by participating in the 5K and 10K races with my family, and then serving as a running guide for former Army Sgt. Stefan LeRoy (a good friend and Freedom Team member who lost both legs in Afghanistan) in the half marathon. Guiding Freedom Team members is an honor – and takes a lot of focus. On the course, guides are responsible for keeping the athlete safe. We are helping keep racers on pace, ensure the running path is clear, help ensure prosthetics stay secure and, maybe most importantly, are motivators. Stefan and I have run together many times before – but this one was picture perfect. We kept our target pace, didn’t have any falls, and carried on a conversation throughout the race that I will remember for years to come.
I had committed to guide another Freedom Team member – and friend – in the full marathon on Sunday. Unfortunately, my partner had to pull out of the race at the last minute.
I was disappointed not to be guiding and had mixed feelings as to whether I should run the race on my own. On one hand, I was a bit relieved because I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to make sure I gave my friend the service and support he needed.
On the other hand, I felt disappointed. Not only because I'd be missing out on the guiding experience, but because I really wanted to complete the "Dopey Challenge"– completing the 5K, 10K, half, and full marathons over the four days – one more time.
The year 2019 is going to be another challenging – and rewarding – one for Cigna. Symbolically, I think I wanted to kick it off by testing the power of possibilities. I haven't completed a marathon by myself in more than 20 years – so racing on my own was going to be a real test of my mental and physical endurance.
In the end, I decided to run solo. I hoped to finish with a time that began with the number "4," determined to finish in less than five hours, no matter what it took.
Overall, the race was pretty smooth. But I had to focus on the mental side of the race. To get through the tough parts, I reflected on the past, recalling many of the wonderful experiences I have had over the last eight years guiding our veterans, and sharing my family's first races together. I finished with a time of below 3:50, far better than my expectations.
It's amazing how things can go when you open yourself up to the power of possibilities, and "allow" yourself to exceed expectations. This year, thanks to some "Disney magic," I was given a great reminder.