Winter Garden resident Dan Muken makes it his job to make others smile and laugh as he performs magic tricks for them during his daily bike rides on the West Orange Trail.
WINTER GARDEN – With his wireless earphones, a dark shirt with bold lettering that spells NAVY and an inconspicuous black bag of magic tricks, Dan Muken sets off every morning to bike the West Orange Trail.
The 72-year-old Vietnam veteran has biked 40 to 50 miles on the trail every day for the past year because, as he says in his own words, it’s 10% exercise and 90% fun. The fun comes in when he gets the opportunity to do the two things he loves best: perform magic tricks and make others smile.
He’s been performing magic tricks since he was 5 after his mother bought him a book on how to do magic tricks with common household items. He did it as a hobby for a few years and used the old talent during toy demonstrations for his toy-selling business, World of Fun.
Passers-by would ask him to do magic tricks for birthday parties. After a while, he eventually got in touch with a company that hired him as a freelance magician and provided him a steady supply of magic gigs.
“It wasn’t something I planned,” he said. “I hadn’t planned on being a professional magician, but when people saw me they asked me to do it for birthday parties. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ And they started paying me for it. I enjoyed that a lot. You make money, and you’re having a blast.”
Working as a professional magician for the majority of his life made Muken quite the expert in all things magic. Recounting the details of those moments he’s made other people he met on the trail laugh in surprise with his performances leaves a glint of pride in his eyes.
But even with more than 100 tricks up his sleeve, including classical card and disappearing coin tricks, his favorite trick is making the day of others who might be having a rough time.
For it wasn’t too long ago that he, as well, went through a rough time.
LOVE OF HIS LIFE
Despite his lifelong love for magic, his 45-year love for his wife, who died from ovarian cancer in July 2016 emotionally overwhelmed him and he lost all desire to do magic.
Her name was Janice. And to this day, Muken still remembers the details of the day they met on a Saturday afternoon, May 22, 1971, as well as their first date to go watch a Broadway play in New York titled “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Immediately following his wife’s passing, he fell into a deep depression. During that time, he recalled watching television ceaselessly, almost 24/7, he said. And it took him more than a year before he could even speak about her again. During that time, he took to expressing his grief in solace by writing love letters and poems for her.
TRAIL TO THE TRAIL
It wasn’t until his son visited him one day and urged him to get out of the house and try going on bike rides on the West Orange Trail that Muken began what quickly became a daily routine he grew to love.
So after his son fixed up a 17-year-old bike Muken had let sit unused in the garage for decades, Muken took his son’s advice.
“I took it out to go on the trail by myself that night, and I did a roundtrip of five miles on the trail,” Muken said. “It was the first time I was ever on it, and I said to myself, ‘Wow — five miles. That’s a lot of miles! I’ll never do that again!’ I thought I could never break that record … but the next day I went out there and I did nine, and I thought, ‘Well that’s definitely going to be the most I’ll ever do.’ But then every day, I added a bit more. And I did it every day and never took a day off because I realized it was really helping mentally and physically. Before I knew it, I was riding almost 20 miles every day.”
Now his average is about 40 to 50 miles a day, with 57 miles being his personal record high. The past 14 months of biking made him lose 72 pounds and helped him slowly heal from the loss of his wife, who he said always encouraged him to love and live life to the fullest.
“I feel like she’s not giving up on me,” he said. “She’s making sure that I’m still going to enjoy my life. I really do believe that. Just like I would never let go of her, she’s never going to let go of me. I might not see her, but I know she’s near.”