Delawarean Takes a Marathon Disney Ride to Support Cancer Charity

Delawarean John Rigney found himself on ABC’s Good Morning America today for undertaking a feat of significant endurance to raise money for an important cause.

But the marathon-runner wasn’t being featured for his road-racing accomplishments – instead, his exploits involved what he calls “the dumbest and best idea” he’s ever had.

That idea was the unlikely adventure of jumping aboard Disney World’s ‘It’s a Small World’ boat ride repeatedly and all day long on Saturday – for 13 hours straight – in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).


When the Wilmington resident conceived of the ‘Small World Challenge’ a few months ago, he shared a few posts about it on social media. Then a funny thing happened. News about his idea spread in the LLS community, and people around the country decided they, too, would take part in the “LLS Team in Training” fundraiser. Twenty people in all bought their own plane tickets and gathered pledges for LLS’s first-ever Disney fundraiser.

Rigney has been raising funds for LLS for several years, first joining the Disney Marathon Team in Training. But he says the Small World Challenge is the ultimate endurance challenge – both physically – standing in line and sitting for hours on a hard plastic seat – and mentally. The park estimates that It’s a Small World plays 1,200 times a day along the ride.

Sporting purple ‘Cruising for a Cure’ t-shirts he had made for the fundraiser, Rigney and his crew first stepped aboard one of the large plastic boats at 9 am, and they got back on as often as they could until the park closed at 10 pm. They unabashedly sang the song just about every time they hopped on.

This morning Rigney was ecstatic about having raised $34,000 for LLS, even if he’s a bit more banged up for the experience.

“I’m a little more wiped out than after running a marathon. It takes a toll on you. It was 13 hours – a lot of it was spent standing in line. The lines were a lot longer than we thought they would have been. So we didn’t get as many rides as we would have hoped. But it was still pretty amazing.”

Here’s team leaderr Rigney singing with his crew, who says “We’re still singing. Some ungodly number of hours into this ride.”

Rigney and his team hoped to ride Small World at least 30 times. But with waits as much as 50 minutes between rides, his crew managed to ride just 23 times. “The hardest thing was standing in line all that time,” said Rigney.

Even the most die-hard Disney fans concede that the “Small World” ride at Magic Kingdom generates polarizing opinions: “You either love it, or you hate it,” says Rigney.

That’s because the decades-old attraction, which features 300 dolls that animate robotically, plays the legendary – what a few critics would call corny – anthem of world peace constantly during the 12-minute ride – as many as 1,200 times a day. Little children marvel as the slow boat ride passes singing children dressed in costumes from countries around the world.


“I’m not going to lie – when we got back to the hotel last night, I could definitely hear the song playing over and over again in my head.”

Rigney came up with the idea for the Small World Challenge three years ago when his family got stuck on the ride for about an hour. “It was the last ride of the night, and the park was closing. It was pretty crazy to have to sit there and listen to that song over and over again,” he says.

But yesterday the team members kept themselves busy (and distracted from listening to the song) as they checked in on social media, recorded and live-streamed videos and took pictures. “It didn’t’ get as old as I thought it would. Maybe if we had been on the ride longer, it would have been worse” said Rigney.


A few other highlights:

• By sheer coincidence, the boat crew met a young mom and her son named Korbyn, who is undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) while standing in line. The pair joined the Small World Team in Training for a ride. “This is the reason we are doing this,” remarked one of the team members on Facebook.

• The National Director of Team in Training (a division of LLS) made a special surprise trip to Orlando, showing up at the exit of Small World with a tray of Dole Whips for the crew. 

• Team member Andrew Nerney, from Atlanta, was challenged by a friend in a Disney running marathon group to get a makeover while standing in line. Happy to raise more money for the cause, Nerney asked Disney cast members to find a makeup artists. And at 6 pm last night a woman showed up with a pallet of makeup and a purple wig and gave Nerney a complete makeover. 

“This has been bigger and better than I thought it would be. It was the dumbest idea I ever had and the best idea I ever had because it turned out so great,” said Rigney.

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About the Contributor

Christy Fleming

Christy Fleming

The managing editor of, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.