MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As thousands of runners from across the country take part in this weekend’s 32nd Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, for one runner, the marathon isn’t as important as the 5K she’s running the day before.
To someone simply passing by, it may look like Niki Ronnan is simply pushing her brother Mike Ewaldt in a wheelchair.
But what you’re actually seeing is a racing team — fueled by Ronnan’s legs and powered by Ewaldt’s heart.
“I never planned on running,” Ronnan said. “And I adamantly said I would never run a marathon.”
And she never thought she’d be here with her brother. Mike was diagnosed with encephalitis when he was just 18 months old. He’s been in a wheelchair ever since.
Ronnan never had an interest in running. That was until three years ago when her mom signed her up for a group called “Moms on the Run.”
“She signed me up, paid for me and forced me out of the car and down the trail,” Ronnan said. “And now I coach for them and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Ronnan has run three marathons, but what she’s really looking forward to is the 5K wheelchair race with Ewaldt on Saturday, the day before her Twin Cities marathon.
This sibling duo came to be when Ronnan and her mom were getting ready to run a race one morning.
“Mike needed some help in the very early morning hours,” Ronnan said. “My mom went into his room and she helped, and Mike looked at her and said, ‘Mom, you are so lucky you can run.'”
That’s all it took for Ronnan to start taking Ewaldt on the trails. And she quickly began to notice a change in her brother.
“On one of our longer training runs Mike turned around and said to me, ‘It’s always been Mike and Niki, Mike and Niki. You and me together — Team Heart,'” Ronnan said. “And that’s how that came to be.”
Team Heart has now done several races, including two 20-mile runs. On Oct. 20, they’ll run their first marathon together in Mankato. But for Ronnan and Ewaldt, crossing the finish line isn’t nearly as important as the bond they build along the way.
“A friend drove past us and yelled out some encouraging words to Mike,” Ronnan said. “And he looked back and he looked at me and he was beaming. And I got tears in my eyes. And I just think I can’t believe how lucky we are because realistically the ability to run a marathon isn’t something everybody has.”
Saturday’s wheelchair 5K is sponsored by Midwest Special Services.
Ronnan said Ewaldt will be running for his friends who don’t have someone to push them, the tandem hopes that someday the Twin Cities adds a wheelchair marathon.