Heels & Wheels – Meet Team Heart; Niki Ronnan & Mike Ewaldt
By Joe Steck – Mankato Times
The 2013 Mankato Marathon keynote speaker was ground breaking Boston Marathoner Kathrine Switzer, the first women to complete the Boston Marathon with a number. In the audience listening to Kathrine was a sister – brother running team who was about to break a barrier of their own, to compete in a full marathon in Minnesota.
Niki Ronnan & Mike Ewaldt’s story goes back to when Mike was around two years old and was diagnosed with encephalitis which is now diagnosed as cerebral palsy. Because of this infliction, Mike is in a wheelchair.
Growing up, Mike and elder sister Niki were close.
“We have always been best friends,” said Niki “We have a lot in common and we talk all the time.”
The brother and sister have done almost everything together growing up and into their adult lives, but something that never crossed their minds was running a marathon.
Niki never planned on being a runner, but something happened early one morning with Mike and his mother Dawn Ronnan Tanner that had a prolific effect on everyone’s lives.
“About three years ago my mother signed me up to join ‘Moms on the Run’ and basically forced me to go running with her,” said Niki “One morning at about 4:00 am, Mike needed help and mom went to help him. Mike looked at her and said ‘Mom, you are so lucky you can run.’”
Life suddenly changed. Niki soon started running with Mike.
“Running has been wonderful and is changing both of our lives,” Niki said “Mike is getting stronger and using his body in new ways, which makes him happy and feel powerful.”
When running, Mike uses a lot of his core muscles to sit up in the racing chair. The more they run and train, the stronger he gets. Since training, Mike can do sit-ups, something that he needed help with in the past.
Although Mike will never be able to walk, the racing has helped with his balance and flexibility, helping him develop into a real “BA”.
Niki lives 2 blocks away from her mother and Mike so she does not have far to go to be with her running partner.
“We run together and we run with members of Moms on the Run,” said Niki “Moms on the Run even helped to rise and then paid for Mike’s $2,000 racing chair.”
The duo has become known as “Team Heart” thanks to a conversation during a long run.
“On one of our longer runs Mike turned around and said to me, ‘It has always been Mike and Niki, Mike and Niki. You and me together — Team Heart,’” Niki said. “And that’s how that came to be.”
Niki and Mike trained and soon were ready for a race.
“Mike really wanted a medal so we entered Run for Blood sponsored by Red Cross,” Niki said “It was a seven mile run around Lake Calhoun and Mike received his medal.”
Since that initial race, Niki and Mike have run in numerous different events including two 20 mile runs.
Not all races are wheelchair friendly.
“We have received a lot of no’s when we stated we wanted to run. The reason was always no strollers.” Niki said “Mike is not in a stroller, he is in a racing wheel chair. We finally just decided to show up for a few races to run.”
One race in which Niki and Mike entered; a gentleman gave the two a rather dirty look at the starting line. 24 minutes, 33 seconds later and a 4th place finish in the 5K by team heart in Mike’s age group wiped the dirty look of the man’s face.
“We have tried numerous times to enter a marathon in the past but were constantly told no,” said Niki “The Twin Cities marathon was our goal and we thought we were going to be able to enter, but unfortunately were not allowed this year.”
What was disappointment to Mike and Niki turned into a lucky break for Mankato.
“When we were told no by the Twin Cities marathon, we immediately contacted the Mankato Marathon to see if we could enter,” Niki said “A few hours later we were called by the Mankato Marathon and they said we could run the race. We cried tears of joy.”
Niki, Mike and the rest of the family as well as members of “Moms on the Run” headed down to Mankato to compete in the race and support each other.
When Niki and Mike crossed the finish line they were surrounded by family and friends who supported them throughout the day. Some ran along side during the race while others were cheering and holding up signs of support.
Niki and Mike ran for his friends who do not have someone to push them.
“When I felt like quitting, I remembered that I was not just running for myself.” Said Niki
When not running, Mike is an artist and also goes to his job at Midwest Special Services, Inc. while Niki is a mother of a four year old daughter, coaches at Moms on the Run and works at Securian Financial Group Inc. Niki also runs on her own, completing her fourth Marathon (Twin Cities marathon) just two weeks before the Mankato Marathon.
Thank you Mankato Marathon helping Mike and Niki realize their dream of running a complete marathon together and letting all athletes compete.
Mike and Niki, thank you for shining the light on unconditional love and for paving the way for equality for all in the sporting world.
To learn more about Team Heart, click here
To learn more about Moms on the Run, click here
To learn more about the Mankato Marathon, click here