by Dan Holland
For Broadview Heights residents Dan and Christine Boyle, a recent trip to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida to participate in the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend Feb. 23-26 was both a time for celebration and reflection.
Dan, who participates in numerous running events in Ohio, began pushing their special needs daughter, Courteney, in a specialized running stroller several years ago in a number of races. Courteney, who suffered from Moebius Syndrome, passed away in early March, 2022 at the age of 21. This year, the couple entered their son Kevin, 19, who suffers from cerebral palsy, in the race in memory of his sister.
“Courteney had been running that race since 2016, and with all that transpired last year, we thought we would go run for her,” said Dan. “We had around 40 people who were running with us or cheering us on. People came from all over the country to join us down there.”
One of the highlights for the family, whose Team Boyle Foundation raises money to benefit the disability community, was when Dan helped Kevin walk across the finish line of the half marathon at Disney.
“That was really special,” said Christine. “There are a couple of pictures of that on the Facebook page for Run Disney that they had posted of Dan and Kevin crossing the finish line. By the end of the day, there were hundreds of likes and comments on it.”
Dan and Courteney compiled 100 miles together in the annual event at Disney beginning in 2016. Each year, the family would raise money for a select charity through the event, but they decided to just run this year in Courteney’s honor.
“Normally, we get business sponsors and people make donations, and we find a disability cause in the community that we donate all the funds to,” explained Christine. “Over the years, we picked different charities, but this year we needed just to grieve and celebrate and be with family and close friends. But the heart of our Team Boyle Foundation is to use running events to raise awareness about disabilities and also to give back to the disability community in some way.”
Dan and Christine petitioned Walt Disney World years back, as the resort had not previously allowed runners to push disabled participants in their races. Dan and Courtney became the first-ever duo to do so.
“Back in 2016, Dan wanted to run with her, but he found out that Disney didn’t allow people in wheelchairs to be pushed,” said Christine. “So, he advocated for it and got the USA Track & Field involved and got Disney to change their policy on people using mobility and being pushed in races. Her story made national news since she was the first person that Disney allowed. Now when you go down for these races, there are hundreds of participants being pushed. So, she really paved the way for people who need that assistance.”
The family, along with a number of relatives, friends and co-workers, participated in both the 10K held on Saturday and the half marathon held on Sunday, a pairing referred to as the 19.3-mile challenge. The races begin in the wee hours of the morning and wrap up prior to the parks opening to the general public on those days. More than 16,000 runners participated in the weekend event.
“It will continue as an annual event,” said Dan. “This was our sixth race there – five with Courteney, and this was Kevin’s first at Disney. We missed last year because she was in the hospital. One of the reasons I wanted to run with her at Disney initially was because she had her Make-a-Wish trip down there in 2006 and Kevin had his Make-a-Wish trip there in 2014. So, Disney in general is so sentimental and special to our family.”
“I wanted to a participate this year in Courtney’s honor, and so it was a blessing to be able to be a part of it for her,” said Christine, who walked in the 10K race. “They have characters all throughout the race, and it really is magical and so much fun. Everyone is so encouraging and there are so many people there cheering you on. Our plan is to continue to participate in that moving forward as a way to remember her, celebrate her life and keep her legacy going there.” ∞