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Sue Holland

Five-Hundred Miles in Six Days

Disney Cast Member Rides for Charity

Friday, July 11, 2003
by Sue Holland, MousePlanet staff writer

Photo courtesy Mary Thompson Hunt.

Almost everyone who has ever visited Walt Disney World probably has at least one story to tell about a cast member (Disney employee) who did something that created a magical experience beyond what was expected.

Whether the cast member did something large or something small, Disney encourages taking the time to create a magical moment for a guest. There is even an organization dedicated to recognizing outstanding cast members. Visitors can order a “What Would Walt Do” pin to present to any cast member who is deemed worthy by that guest. Since the program began, more than 500 cast members have been recognized, including the subject of this article.

Mary Thompson Hunt works as an entertainer-improviser at the Comedy Warehouse in Pleasure Island. A cast member with Disney since December of 1990, Mary was hired directly into the Comedy Warehouse cast when it switched to an improv format and is a favorite of many visitors to the club. She's also the female voice guests hear on the taped announcements in Epcot.

In addition, she has conducted many celebrity interviews, worked at the annual SuperSoap events, entertained at numerous conventions and has worked in television shows, commercials and a movie. Mary can be counted on for a consistently excellent performance regardless of her location or role, but this article focuses on what she does outside of work on her own time.

Mary Thompson Hunt onstage at the Comedy Warehouse. Photo by Sue Holland.

On Monday, August 18, she begins a bicycle trip in Niagara Falls, New York, and will ride 500 miles during the next six days until she reaches Manhattan — not for a vacation, but to help raise money for treatment, intervention and advocacy work for people with HIV/AIDS.

The Empire State AIDS Ride is limited to 500 riders, and each participant must raise $3,200 or more in donations in order to be eligible to ride. In order to ensure that 100 percent of the money raised goes to the four nonprofit beneficiaries, each rider also pays a fee that covers the expenses of the ride (such as tents, meals, and road support).

One particularly memorable man was in his 50s, and rode with two prosthetic legs since losing his real ones in a hit-and-run accident a couple of years prior to the 2001 ride.

The Empire State AIDS Ride route was selected to follow many beautiful back roads. Participants will be riding over paved sections of the Erie Canal, through the wine country of the Finger Lakes, around the foothills of the Catskills, down the Hudson Valley and into Manhattan, ending at Battery Park. This is the longest AIDS ride, with the highest donation requirement and the most hills to cover. At one point, riders will have a three-mile uphill ride, with a reward of the next nine miles being downhill! At 125 miles, the first day of the ride is the longest, while days with lots of hills are generally kept to 60 miles because of the increased difficulty.

This will be Mary's first Empire State AIDS Ride, but she's no stranger to pedaling for a cause. In 2001, she completed her fourth AIDS ride, the 350-mile Washington, D.C. AIDS Ride, which began in Raleigh, North Carolina, and ended in Washington, D.C. on the lawn of the Mall. Her fellow riders ranged in age from 18 to 76 and came in all sizes and fitness levels.

One particularly memorable man was in his 50s, and rode the with two prosthetic legs since losing his real ones in a hit-and-run accident a couple of years prior to the 2001 ride. Every rider has a story to share, and, during this ride, Mary met a young woman who rode to honor her father — a regular ride participant until his sudden death. Most participants ride to honor or help people they know who are either living with HIV or have lost their lives to AIDS, but anyone can participate.

Mary and fellow Comedy Warehouse cast member Bruce Bowes ride the final mile into Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy Mary Thompson Hunt.

How does a person decide to ride a bicycle hundreds of miles? In Mary's case, one day she started counting the friends she had lost to AIDS and had to stop when the number climbed too high almost immediately. At a meeting for people interested in working as crew for the Orlando to Miami AIDS Ride she watched videotape that showed a woman in her 60s talking about why she does the ride each year. Mary decided then that if that woman could ride, so could she. Her first training ride covered six miles, and, in her words, “it just about killed me.” Quitting was never an option she considered — instead, she kept riding a little farther each time, and, this past Easter, rode 80 miles by herself!

Part of the reason for her late finish was that she hid from their van so they would not force her out of the race!

Mary has done the Orlando to Miami AIDS Ride three times, and, on her first time, she was the last of the 800 riders to finish. She had problems with flat tires, got lost and was so late that ride organizers set out looking for her to give her a ride to the end. She refused the ride, and insisted she be allowed to pedal to the finish line. Part of the reason for her late finish was that she hid from their van so they would not force her out of the race! She lost time hiding behind things until the van passed. Completing that first ride on her own was a huge accomplishment!

A large group from Pleasure Island Entertainment rode from Orlando to Miami. Photo courtesy Mary Thompson Hunt.

While the riders might look very different from each other, they have in common the enormous amount of work needed to get into good physical shape for the ride. Each rider goes at his or her own pace, and can opt to ride in a van if the cycling becomes too much. Age is not a factor if the rider has trained properly. In Mary's case, she either rides several miles (20-80) or works out with weights, on a treadmill and in a spin class six days a week. Training requires a good deal of sacrifice, but one she's willing to make, because of the importance of it. Outside work opportunities, social events — they all take a backseat while she is training.

Clermont, Florida — where Mary trains on hills. Photo courtesy Mary Thompson Hunt.

In 2001, there were supposed to be three others riding with Mary in the Washington, D.C. AIDS Ride, but two were injured when a truck sideswiped them while they were on their bikes. The truck fled the scene. The accident seriously hurt one, but both dropped out of the ride. It was difficult for Mary to get back on a bike after that, especially since sharing the road with cars was already a nerve-wracking experience, but she did it and went on to complete that 350-mile ride.

…[B]ut two were injured when a truck sideswiped them while they were on their bikes. The truck fled the scene.

Mary initially signed up to do an AIDS Ride because she wanted to do something to help others. She's found, though, that she never realized what she'd be gaining from the experience. Riders come from all walks of life (the average age for this ride so far is 48), united by a love of cycling and a desire to do something for other people. Time after time perfect strangers helped her out, whether it involved paying for a bottle of Gatorade when the store wouldn't take her debit card, or riders stopping to give her an extra tube when her tire went flat. The rides seem to bring out the best in people — very rewarding!

Raising $3,200 in donations can be intimidating, particularly since Mary's previous rides only required $1,250 to $1,500. She spread the word to friends and co-workers, which got the ball rolling. A stranger she met on her 80-mile Easter training ride became the first person to donate through the Web site for the Empire State AIDS Ride.

Being an entertainer with many talented friends, Mary might organize a show to raise funds for the ride — while providing a great time to people attending. At press time, the details were not yet available, but the tentative lineup of local talent is impressive. It's a safe bet I will make a trip to Orlando for the show, as it's not something I would miss!

During the ride itself, on Friday, August 22, current and former Comedy Warehouse performers will entertain the riders with an improv show at the Hudson Estate. From there, riders will have another 60 miles to go the next day, ending at Battery Park. The race needs a sound system at the Hudson Estate, so if anyone in that area has one to donate for the night, let me know and I'll put you in touch with Mary.

Flags are carried at the end of an Orlando to Miami AIDS Ride. Photo courtesy Mary Thompson Hunt.

During the next five to six weeks, if any Orlando locals are interested in riding with Mary, let me know. Due to her late nights at the Comedy Warehouse, she begins riding around 11 a.m., which is when most riders are finishing. It's not necessary to commit to an 80-mile ride — just ride as far as you're comfortable going.

Recently Jose Santos, a fellow cast member at the Comedy Warehouse, began riding with Mary to help her train. He is a veteran of 150-mile rides to benefit multiple sclerosis and is hoping to register for the Empire State AIDS Ride. The biggest obstacle is money, since between he and Mary they must raise $6,400 in donations plus cover all of their expenses (registration fee, travel to and from New York, six days worth of cycling gear and supplies). Both he and Mary are excited at the prospect of doing the ride together, and are optimistic that Jose will be officially registered before too long.

Anyone wanting to make a donation or learn more about the ride can check the official Web site at Empire State Aids Ride (link). From the home page, there is a link to find a rider, so simply enter either “Hunt” in the last name field and Mary's page should appear, or “Santos” for Jose's page. If you cannot find him, get in touch with me and I can update you on his status. Once the ride begins the Web site will be updated daily with information on that day's route, events and photos.

In September, I'll have a follow-up article to report on Mary's experiences in the 2003 Empire State AIDS Ride. In the meantime, if you see her at the Comedy Warehouse or cycling on the streets of Orlando, stop a moment to give her some encouragement. I am sure she will have a successful ride, and I am impressed with her dedication to the cause and desire to make a difference for people with HIV/AIDS and the people who know and love them.

Mary's letter to everyone at her page at the Empire State AIDS Ride Web site:

Hi Everyone,

This year's ride will be my greatest cycling challenge to date. 500 miles of road and hills from Niagara Falls to Manhattan. The good news is... 100% of your donations will go to the four organizations producing this ride. We riders are covering our own food and lodging costs so that all contributions collected goes to good use.

There is information on this site if you think you may wish to participate in riding or crewing. Or pehaps being in Manhattan on the day we all ride in. It would be awesome to see the faces of loved ones during and after the ride.

I ride for those I love who are living with HIV and AIDS. I'm riding for those I don't know with AIDS. I'm riding so you can have a way to help by sponsoring me with a donation.

I'd like to see a cure for AIDS in my life. I'd like to see more education about HIV and AIDS. I'd like to see medical attention and housing made available to those in need because of AIDS. I'd like not one more person to have to suffer because of AIDS.

Don't know that any of that will or can happen but this ride is one small way I can contribute to that dream. Thank you again for all your support.

Much Love, Mary


Empire State AIDS Ride
Web site
• Six days long, from Mon, Aug 18 to Sat, Aug. 23
• 500 miles long, from Niagara Falls to NYC
• Registration fee: $300
• Fundraising requirement: $3,200

Doctors Without Borders
Health GAP
AIDS Rochester
African Services Committee

U.S. Centers for Disease Control information on HIV/AIDS


Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”


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