Everyone knows about the runDisney Balloon Lady- and if you don’t, you may want to catch up on this post here.
I’ll sum it up just a bit, but it’s a good read if you have the time.
The balloon ladies are the pacers on the runDisney courses. Their purpose is not to instill fear or to sweep you. They are on the course as volunteer participants who keeps the 16-minute mile pace and acts as a visual signal for you on the course.
They were given their name because you can spot them by the high-flying balloons they carry during the race.
Don’t fear them; they are cool, I promise.
At the Tinker Bell Half, we had a twist.
A DUDE was the Balloon Lady. And he was awesome.
Here’s the deal. Disneyland has not been nearly as consistent when it comes to the Balloon Lady position. They do not have the same people race after race like Walt Disney World does. So when I say there is no consistency- that’s exactly what I mean. A different person every time with varying degrees of on-course success.
We’ve had complaints; we’ve had drama (looking at you, inaugural Tink 10K). What we haven’t had was the same person pacing each race.
I’m hoping that could change, and I’m sending out my not-so-subtle plea for runDisney to consider picking David up as All Time West Coast Balloon Dude.
By all accounts, he ROCKED the Tinker Bell Half Marathon as a pacer and gentle encourager on the course.
Meet David Wells, Tinker Bell Balloon Dude
Do you mind if I use your full name in the post? If you run again as a balloon guy, the runners WILL track you. But you seem ok with that!
David Wells. There were a number of people trying to figure out who the balloon ladies were for Tinkerbell this year. A few of my running friends are in those groups and asked if they could share my secret of being the balloon dude. Of course, I said yes. I didn’t want to tell people in the groups as I didn’t want to make it seem like I wanted to draw attention to myself. But then after thinking about it, I was fine having a friend share my name with the group so those who were worried would be able to track me to know how much of a buffer they had before the sweepers arrived.
Tell us about you!
My normal job is a Special Events Coordinator for a city about 45 minutes south of Seattle. I absolutely love my job. I work on providing the city a variety of events including a summer concert series for children as well as families, an Easter Egg hunt and a couple of fun runs just to name a few.
I have only been running in races for a couple of years now. I was a recreational soccer player until my body decided it needed a new ACL during a game. So I have been working on getting back into shape after a few years of no sports by running.
In January, I completed Dopey’s Challenge and the best part was not only completing the challenge but completing my first marathon and getting to ride a roller coaster in the middle of the run. Many of my friends who know me, were not surprised I would find a race with a roller coaster to ride during the run.
So I would probably say the Marathon in January is my favorite race, only because I got to ride Everest as part of the race and not because of the distance. The downside it did throw off my GPS for the rest of the race but I did have a pretty fast split. 🙂
Have you ever been a balloon lady/guy for races other than Disney?
This was the first time I have ever paced a race.
How did you become the “dreaded balloon lady”?
I have a few friends who work for Disney and one of them through a friend of a friend was able to get my name in front of someone who makes the decisions and then Disney got in touch with me to see if I was still interested and of course I said yes. 🙂
Do you know how much fear you strike in runners? What do you think about it?
I have heard numerous stories of people dreading the sight of the balloons. I can certainly understand why the balloons would strike fear in those at the back of the pack as the sweepers are right behind the balloons.
I think fear can be a good thing to help motivate certain people to the finish. For others though it can be difficult to handle.
I tried to be both entertaining and motivating for those at the back, all while making sure to stay on pace.
What’s the funniest/most amusing comment you have heard when people see you?
During the half marathon, we were passing the Happy Hippo Preschool. I shouted out something like hey it is the Happy Hippo Preschool and then said who would ever want to go to a mad hippo preschool.
And someone said The Mad Hatter that’s who. 🙂 It made me chuckle, as well as a few others around us.
As some runners take their walk break in the back I would catch up to them. I kept catching up to one lady and every time I would catch up she would look back and say, “Not you again, I am going to have nightmares about you”. As she ran away with a smile.
Did they buy you a balloon or did you have to pick one up yourself?
Disney paid for the balloons for both days. During the pre-race, I was talking to one of the ladies who works with the WDW balloon ladies and I complimented her on the Death Star Balloons at the Dark Side. She was excited to hear people liked them so much because they actually had to do a special order to get them.
The best part about the balloons is after the race, Disney asks us to give the balloon to a child. So it is really fun to walk around finding the right child to give the balloon to. After the half marathon, I found a young boy who was wearing a Kids Race shirt from the day before and he was with his mom who had recently just finished the race. I am not sure who was happier, mom or the child.
Do you pay your own race fees or does Disney graciously gift those to you?
I have heard some people do not pay and are volunteers, but I paid for my own race this year as I didn’t know I was going to be pacing until after I registered.
Did you train holding a balloon?
I did not train holding the balloon but I did go on a number of walks before the race trying to get as close to the 16-minute mile pace. A number of my friends were asking why I was out training at a 16 mm pace, normally I am a little faster. After a couple of training runs I let the cat out of the bag to my friends as to why I was training at the 16mm pace and they were probably just as excited as I was.
Have YOU ever been swept from a race personally?
I haven’t ever been swept from a race. Luckily I have very long legs and have the ability to walk very fast so when I have gotten tired during a race I typically just speed walk and am able to keep a decent pace.
Looks like you enjoy a good costume! What’s your favorite one to run in so far?
Honestly, I haven’t ever really gotten into the costumes for races. For Star Wars Dark Side I joined the Storm Trooper Crew and ran with a Storm Trooper shirt but that has been the extent of my getting dressed up until now.
I decided to do a mad hatter outfit only because my partner in ballooning was going to do something from Alice in Wonderland and I knew I had a hat and coat from a previous Halloween costume. Thus making up my costume for the half.
Do you ever stop for pictures? What do the lines look like in the end of the race?
If I am running the race myself I love to stop for pictures. I might not stand in line but I will get either a picture of just the character or will do a selfie with the character in the back ground. I have on occasion stopped and waited in line. After all isn’t a Run Disney event about the character stops. I also like to try and get a picture of all of the mile markers. I wasn’t as successful at the mile markers while pacing because I really don’t have as much time to stop to wait for it to be clear to get a picture.
How do you pace yourself? GPS device?
For Ballooning we have a stopwatch and a spreadsheet which tells us what time we need to be at each check point. Then I use a running app on my phone which tells me each 1/4 mile how fast I am going and I also have it set up for every 4 minutes. Hopefully they all go off at the same time.
Checking the timing app, not Facebook… right David? 😉
Are you ever tempted to slow down just a little bit?
No, a team of sweepers on the bikes ride ahead and let us know exactly how far ahead or behind pace we are during the race. The first three miles we were within a few seconds of being exactly on time. Further in the race we were typically within 30 seconds of the scheduled time.
You are a Disney Cast Member- true or false?
I am not a Disney Cast Member, although sometimes I wish I was.
Do you get to hang out with the VIPs before or after the race?
There were VIP’s present? No I didn’t get to hang out with any before or after although I did get my picture with Daisy and Minnie after the race started.
Will you be back?
I will be at the rest of the races this year, at the moment as a runner. IF they want me back and ask I would be happy to say yes. I think I made it a fun experience for most of the people around me.
Hey runDisney, David’s already registered.What say you give him a balloon and a job at the Disneyland Half Weekend? And beyond!
Patty Holliday has been running Disney since 2011. She knows just about every tip, trick, and hack there is to cover the runDisney Magical Miles at Disney World and Disneyland. She knows every mile isn’t *always* magical- but with training, tips, and a little bit of pixie dust, they can be a lot of fun! You can also find her at noguiltlife.com and noguiltfangirl.com
David is from my home town and I was able to meet him (after the race) Tinkerbell 10k was my first race and I learned about the Balloon Ladies through a FB article. I feared David because I didn't want to get swept, and I am not a serious runner. I finished well under the time slotted and when it him, he has the best personality! And he didn't mind U.S. trading him "we didn't want to meet him" it would be great if he could continue as the Balloon Dude
Friday 20th of May 2016
What a great post! Super interesting and a wonderful interview!
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