Meet Jess Crawford, and Sarah Rapp (you may recognize her as a member of the Raleigh Distance Project), both avid runners, and both professional mascots. That’s right, we know not just one, but two women with professional mascot experience.
Of course everyone wants the inside scoop, but they can’t disclose all of the nitty-gritty details of their mascot identity (where would the fun in that be?) However, they can reveal experiences and life lessons only a true mascot would understand.
I currently work as a mascot year-round, as the main performer for two teams: one baseball team and one unnamed winter sport. I'm afraid to say I can't reveal any more than that! Part of the joy of mascotting is the secret identity nature of it; once I leave the suit, I can walk around the stadium or field and be totally anonymous. This is especially true because I'm a 5' 5", 130 pound woman, not who most people picture inside the suit.
Being a mascot is, in many ways, deeply uncomfortable. The suit - and I feel confident generalizing here - is very hot, and often heavy (one of my costumes is 22 pounds). On top of the inherent warmth of the costume, many of us work outdoors; I've done a number of games in temperatures as high as 105. Visibility varies from suit to suit, but is limited in almost every case. In my baseball costume, I have good visibility directly in front of me, but it's limited to an area roughly the size of my own face. In the winter suit, my view is reduced to an area about 12" across and 4" high, and that window is lower than my eyes. When taking photos, I have to stare at people's midsections in order for my costume to look like it's looking at the camera. I can't see steps very well, so I have learned to traverse the stadium mostly by feel.
Also, kids (and some adults) will treat you like a human playground. I've had baseballs lobbed at my head, I've been forcibly carried, had my head yanked on (never off, thankfully!), been tripped, been hugged around the legs so forcibly that I couldn't move. And many adults will try and force their frightened child to take a photo with me, which is something I deeply dislike. Also, I have been handed so many babies! I have even, upon request, signed a baby. Not joking.
There are so many great joys to it, though, of course! You have license to do so many ridiculous things you would never get away with as a regular human person. I rub peoples' heads, steal food, do absolutely ludicrous dances, bring people random presents, and climb onto, or into places I'd never otherwise be allowed. Something that's surprised and delighted me is the relationship you develop with some fans. Season ticket holders (and other diehard regulars) often will get to "know" you. In the winter, I thumb-wrestle with a young girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old, at every single game. She finds me, sticks out her hand, and beats me every time. There's an arena employee who rubs my nose for luck every game, and an usher who adores my character and hugs me at every opportunity. These are very real and meaningful relationships, and I never even speak a word.
Being the Chick-fil-A cow was way more fun than being Sarah Rapp the runner. Everyone loved me and acted like were best friends in the suit. But when I took off the costume and walked outside the swing door to the kitchen, I just blended in like another sweaty Chick-fil-A employee.
The identity you develop as a serious/professional runner is pretty invasive; when nearly every decision you make throughout your day, revolves around allowing you to perform (or survive!) a workout. Timing meals so you don’t have stomach issues, refilling your water bottle every 20 minutes… subsequently peeing every 6 minutes, choosing to call it an early night with friends - the list of decisions never ends.
Now imagine getting to be a new character. You get to run away from your average, everyday life, jump into the TV and become your favorite cartoon! You have just become a mascot. What’s your first move? Dance like no one’s watching? They don’t know it’s you- your identity is anonymous, yet everyone knows your character. So the better question is, what WOULDN'T you do?
My mascot resume includes: a blood drop for American Red Cross, the COW at Chick-Fil-A, a Frosty Parrot for a yogurt shop, and most recently, a squirrel for Sir Walter Running. Each character has its own rules and costume restrictions you adapt to (you can’t talk, your range of motion is limited due to humongous slipper-shoes or tails, pretty much no peripheral vision) … and each character has a pre-determined identity. Some were more popular than others due to marketing and branding (kids know the cow, but not the squirrel!!) But whichever one I got to be, I got to be the best version of that character and make positive memories for everyone I came into contact with. (Except for closed minded babies I had no control over whether they liked me or not)
Approaching kids outside of the costume with the same energy I had in the suit; ready to do that same handshake we had invented moments before I took the suit off, always resulted in them looking at me like I was crazy. That was and always will be a reminder to myself that you can only be you. You can’t be someone or something else that everyone knows and loves all the time. So, I have developed a desire to build my own brand through relationships, positivity, and enthusiasm. I may not become internationally known and loved as the Chick-fil-A Cow… but I can meet as many people at the local level as I can!