Running a marathon is no small feat, but some ambitious runners participating in Walt Disney World’s annual Marathon Weekend don’t stop there — they get a bit dopey.
Athletes competing in the Dopey Challenge run all four Marathon Weekend events — the 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon — in four consecutive days. During the 2022 event at the Florida resort, Jan. 6-9, Kayla Swope completed her first-ever Dopey Challenge — and she couldn’t have done it without her friend, Apryl Tidd.
And we’re not just talking about moral support here. Swope is visually impaired, and she ran the incredible 48.6-mile challenge with Tidd working as her guide.
Training Together For RunDisney Races
The pals met while participating in the Disney College Program in 2014 and bonded over their shared passion for running. Swope, who has degenerative corneal disease, sees mostly shapes and colors with very little detail. She began participating in RunDisney races in 2016 and said it was tough realizing that she needed support to safely complete them.
“It took me a while to swallow my pride and admit that these races were not safe to do on my own with my vision declining at the rate it was,” Swope said. “It’s never shameful to ask for help when you need it. After I decided on that I reached out to Apryl who stepped right in to guide. People are out there more than willing to help you when you need it.”
Living in different states — Swope in Iowa and Tidd in Florida — the friends relied heavily on text messages to encourage each other through training, with Swope on the treadmill for safety and Tidd running outdoors.
“Whenever Kayla gets on the treadmill or I get out to run in Florida, we text each other and encourage each other and it truly feels like we’re training together,” said Tidd, who also acts as a guide for her sister, who also happens to be visually impaired. She said her experience with her sister, whom she pushes in a wheelchair, helped prepare her to guide Swope.
“A lot of what I do with my sister helps when I’m with Kayla,” Tidd said. I have to be really aware of my surroundings — every crack in the road — to make sure she stays safe.”
Swope said one of the best parts for her about participating in RunDisney races is how well they accommodate runners like her. “RunDisney is one of the best when it comes to [athletes with disabilities] in my experience,” Swope said. “Other races — even large races — just do not know or understand how to accommodate us. I have even asked for accommodations at other races and have been told ‘you’ll be fine.’ The organization RunDisney has and the care that they provide for us is top notch.”
After the pandemic forced the cancellation of in-person RunDisney events for the remainder of 2020 and most of 2021, Swope and Tidd, along with the thousands of other runners who competed during the first Marathon Weekend of 2022, were thrilled to return to the starting line.
“This was the big reunion,” Swope said. “We were supposed to run Dopey in 2021 and then it obviously got canceled due to the pandemic, so we kind of pushed this dream of ours a year, and so it’s been surreal that we’re here and we did it and we finally had this moment after a year of race cancellations.”
Completing the challenge meant every bit as much to Tidd as it did to Swope.
“For [Kayla] to trust me to do this and for us to finally be here at the finish line — this day will live with me forever and ever that we did this together,” Tidd said.
Two RunDisney race weekends are still to come at Walt Disney World during the 2021–2022 race season: the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend is slated for Feb. 24–27 and the RunDisney Springtime Surprise Weekend is set for March 31–April 3.
Brooke Geiger McDonald is a theme park journalist covering all things Disney and Universal. When she’s not screaming on the newest roller coaster or critiquing the cheese served with her Mickey pretzel, she’s busy breaking the latest theme park news on Twitter and Instagram.