Disney Cast Members Make Magic for Pediatric Cancer Research

Shelli Weinstein

by , Specialist, Communications, Walt Disney Imagineering

If you had told me when I first joined Disney that I would one day sign up for early morning beach runs, hot summer evening practices and learning how to be part of a triathlon relay team, I would have said you were dreaming. But now, having been part of the Disney Triathlon Team for four years, I’d say it was one of the best things to happen to me yet at Disney.  

Made up of cast members from across The Walt Disney Company, the Disney Triathlon Team races to fundraise for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) each year – but that feels like a bit of an understatement. Our team trains together for months, and we pride ourselves on creating a fun and safe environment, where we can learn from and support each other while also helping to better the world we live in. We hold fundraisers, regular weekly practices, provide mentorship and team matching and in my opinion, the absolute most supportive community.  

In fact, this year our team raised over $160,000, which will go towards supporting the work that CHLA does to create hope for children and families, through pediatric cancer research and life-changing care. It really does feel special to be a part of this team and I’m so proud of everyone who has trained for a great race and fundraised for this amazing cause. Some even swam in the ocean or completed a race for the first time this year! 

Today I’m so thrilled to get to share some of my teammates’ stories with you all, too!

This year, Jeff Ong, VIP Host at Disneyland Resort, finished his third full triathlon with Team Disney, and says that he was inspired to join the team to challenge himself to accomplish something he had never thought he could.   

“I wanted to push my limits and see what I was capable of. The Disney Tri Team provided a great resource and opportunity to step into the world of triathlons and learn from those around me,” he said.  

“My favorite part of being on the team is knowing that I am not alone, and that there are all levels of experienced individuals that I can share my journey with. Members of the team provide great advice and appreciated encouragement,” he added. “I’m proud to wear Disney on my jersey during these events. It’s a great community and it is amazing what we can accomplish as a team.”  

Chris Thornton, Assistant Show Manager at Walt Disney Imagineering, has been a member of the Disney Triathlon Team for the past six years, both as part of a relay team and also as an individual participant who completed the race himself.  

“My good friend asked if I would join her team as a swimmer and having never done a triathlon, I was very curious so I said yes. I have always been into team sports and like to be competitive, and of course because it is for such a great cause raising money for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles – how could I say no? I have also made so many new lifelong friends from joining the team, and that makes it even more fun. We have so much fun training and fundraising together.”  

Chris also joined the team’s mentorship program this year to share his experience and expertise as a mentor with athletes who are new to the sport. “To share my past experiences with them to help them know that they were totally capable of doing the race and fundraising was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was super cool to watch them grow in confidence and strength. I always enjoy training others and helping them see what they are able to achieve.”

Melanie McDonald, PhotoPass Photographer at Disneyland Resort, joined the team this year. Having always wanted to finish a triathlon, Melanie was inspired to join the team before she was even a cast member! She had seen Team Disney listed on our event’s website and once she arrived at Disneyland, immediately started asking around about the team.

“I was so excited,” she said. “I have a friend who is currently dealing with childhood cancer and seeing what she has to go through is tough. If I can do something to help put an end to that, I will.”  

Though her race didn’t go entirely as planned, Melanie (and all of Team Disney) is proud of her accomplishment. “My goal was to finish upright. And that’s what I did. I completed my first triathlon! That’s a memory I will take with me forever. My favorite part of being on the Disney Triathlon Team is that I feel like I was welcomed with open arms. Everyone is so positive and such a joy to be around. I’m so thankful that I found the team!”  

She added that she’d tell other cast members, “if you have something that you want to do or are interested in, there’s a good chance someone else at the company shares your passion. Seek those people out. You may be surprised by the community and friends you find along the way.”

Asked to share her final thoughts on the team and an exhilarating 2022 season, Team Disney co-captain Alethia Shih, Manager, Strategic Programs & Initiatives, Disney Studio Technology, put it succinctly: “To me, this team is 1,000% heart, 1,000% hard work, and 1,000% community. That’s why I love them 3,000. Truly.”