Orlando’s Big Sports Weekend

Forget the Orlando Magic and the playoffs. Those guys are just professional entertainers. If you want real sports, you have to watch real athletes who compete because it’s in their soul. That’s what I did this weekend at Disney’s Wide World of Sports and the Magic Kingdom. It reminded me of my childhood youth, before cable, when the only thing to watch on a weekend was either Ron Ely as Tarzan or ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I can hear it now…

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport…

The thrill of victory…

The agony of defeat…

The human drama of athletic competition…

This is Orlando’s Wide World of Sports!

I first attended the Muddy Buddy and the Danskin Triathlon events last year due to my friends (below) competing in them and decided to go again this year. Let’s face it, I’m not a big sports fan. In fact, I can’t think of anything more annoying than the voice of a sports announcer. Fortunately, it’s easier to tune those voices out of your head when you’re actually at a competitive event. It gets even easier when you concentrate on photographing the event. I took over 1500 shots at the Muddy Buddy and about 500 at the Danskin Triathlon.

Both events start too damn early (7:00 am and 6:00 am respectively) and I had to wake up two hours before start time each day so I could get ready, make the drive down to Disney, and be there about a half hour before the start.

One thing that amazes me is how people find each other at these events. The Muddy Buddy had 2800 competitors. That’s more than enough people, but then you have to add in all of their supporters. Let’s just say it makes for some interesting traffic and crowds. Despite all of that, I still managed to find my friends before the race. Normally, you’d think that a couple of girls dressed up like chickens in bright yellow would stand out, but not at the Muddy Buddy. People are encouraged to wear some interesting costumes.

The Danskin Triathlon kicks off in Orlando every year on Mother’s Day at the Magic Kingdom. In some ways, I’m less thrilled about this one than the Muddy Buddy. They do far more to restrict the spectators and it’s nearly impossible to get a decent photograph without part of someone’s head or hand in the way. This year, one woman who finished the race decided to stand right in front of me before the finish line so she could High Five the other competitors as they neared the end. Not only did I wish she’d get out of the way of my photos, but she also confused many of the competitors into thinking that they’d already finished the race when the end was still 10 yards away. More than once the crowd had to tell those women that it wasn’t over yet. They still have to run over the mat to record their finish time electronically. Basically, this nice old woman screwed over everyone with her enthusiasm.

Still, you can’t help but admire the people who compete. Keep in mind that the vast majority of these folks aren’t Olympic or Iron Man competitors. They’re your friends and neighbors. They may be old, fat or physically disabled. Some of the fastest competitors in both races were amputees. Maria Katz hopped into the water on one foot for her swim, she rode her bike without a prosthesis, and then she raced to the finish with her prosthesis. Here’s the part that amazes me. Her swim time was faster than a friend of mine who won first place in her age group.

This is why I don’t really care about professional sports. Those guys are just paid to put butts in the seats. They don’t have another day job. They’re literally at the top of their game and have every advantage to be there. The folks I saw this weekend were just like you and me. Some of them are incredible athletes, but all of them got off their ass long enough to work up a sweat and have a good time. You have to admire those folks.

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