Early morning wakeup calls, seven weeks of paddling, and teams of friends and colleagues seeking a one-of-a-kind #DisneyCastLife competition are the ingredients for success at the Disneyland Resort Cast Canoe Races.
This beloved cast member summer tradition on the Rivers of America at Disneyland park dates back to 1963, and the 2023 edition brought together 84 teams of cast members, crew members, Imagineers and employees from across The Walt Disney Company to see who could come out vict-OAR-ious as the fastest Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes paddlers on the water.
Some have competed for decades, but dozens of teams raced for the very first time—teams like the Rivers of FAMerica, comprised of cast from Disneyland’s Facilities Asset Management department. It was an opportunity for them to bond with one another while trying something new, but little did they know they would have a story to remember forever!
When the Rivers of FAMerica first took to the water in early July, they sailed in toward the lower end of the leaderboard. “We started off very slow,” said team member Rejean Fukuji. “In our first practice another canoe passed us. We were averaging about six minutes [each lap].”
To the team’s surprise, by finals week in August, they were soaring through the finish line as champions of their division, clocking a time of just over four minutes on their last lap. “This is definitely an underdog story,” said Carly Schwulst, team cadence leader. “We’ve worked hard to be here, and it’s been such an incredible opportunity to be able to bond with this team.”
Team captain John Mayen recalled that the team struggled to get enough people to row during the first few weeks of practice. Each week, he strapped a camera to his head, so the team could review the footage of their laps and see where they could improve.
“My favorite part of all of this is seeing how much we’ve bonded as a team throughout our journey,” said John. “Through this process we’ve been able to get closer as colleagues and seeing our improvement through the whole season has been really satisfying for us.”
The team joined the other division winners in a chilly victory lap, sprinkled with rain but pouring with excitement. As the teams cruised around the river one last time, they shared laughter, happiness and a sense of pride for all they accomplished the last two months.
“We put so much work, time and energy into this,” said John. “All the practice sessions, general meetings and analysis of our performance all came together for this final race. I’m incredibly proud of our team.”