Observing Mary Ann Ratajczak jogging along the streets of her neighborhood or sprinting on a treadmill at the gym, one might think she is running alone. But one would be wrong.
It’s impossible for Mary Ann to run alone. Not since Mikey Ash took up residence in her heart.
Mary Ann is in the final weeks of preparation for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. She’ll be part of “Ryan’s Run 9,” a fund-raising venture spearheaded by WNEP-TV’s over-the-top news personality Ryan Leckey to raise money for Allied Services, which provides a variety of care for children and adults with disabilities. Mikey Ash is one of those children.
A 54-year-old mom, who’d easily pass for 34 or younger, Mary Ann has completed eight half-marathons but never a full 26.2-mile run. It was her husband, John, who suggested she try a full marathon and that she make her first one New York.
“He knows if I get something in my head I will do it,” she says.
But what really put wind in her sails was meeting Mikey Ash.
Once she set her sights on the New York City Marathon, Mary Ann set her sights on Ryan’s Run. In eight years, Ryan’s Run has raised $2.6 million for Allied Services. Mary Ann wanted to be part of that. The process, she learned, was to apply for one of the 50 slots on Ryan’s team, pray to get accepted, be paired with an “ambassador,” and if all that comes to pass, start training.
It has. And she is.
An endoscopy nurse at Geisinger Medical Center, Mary Ann is a caregiver by nature. As such, it didn’t take much for her to fall in love with her ambassador Mikey, a 13-year-old, who’s been a familiar face at Allied for more than 10 years.
As a toddler, Mikey was diagnosed with the rare condition Rubinstein-Taybie Syndrome, which typically causes difficulty with language development and even feeding, as well as other intellectual and physical disabilities, including short stature. Recently, Mikey also was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.
Not only did Mary Ann find a kindred spirit in Mikey’s mom, Nicole, a pediatric nurse, but also experienced what she believes was a spiritual affirmation. Mikey, it turns out, lives in her neighborhood.
“I was running past his house every Sunday,” she says. “Hearing that meant a lot to me.”
When she got to meet Mikey, her heart melted.
“He opened the door and hugged me,” she says. “And we instantly formed a connection.”
The former Mary Ann Vidzar, a native of Yatesville and a Pittston Area graduate, Mary Ann does not consider herself athletic and never ran a step until she turned 50.
“I set a goal to do a 5K,’ she says, “and that just took off. Eight half-marathons later, here I am.”
“Training for a marathon is not easy,” Mary Ann admits. “A lot of the time it just plain hurts. But whenever it does, I just think of Mikey and I keep going.”
She adds that contemplating the New York City Marathon can be frightening.
“I’ll be nervous at the start, that’s for sure,” she says. “And if I have to walk a few miles, I will. But I will definitely run across the finish line. I can guarantee that. And I’ll be thinking about Mikey when I do.”
For now, Mary Ann is hoping and praying that Mikey can join her at the All Abilities Walk on Saturday, Oct. 6, at Valor Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Scranton. That morning, participants in Ryan’s Run will run a 5K, but more importantly, their ambassadors will join them in walking one lap around the track. Though Mikey’s mobility has been severely impaired by arthritis, his goal is to complete that lap, or at least a portion of it, with Mary Ann.
Mary Ann was at last year’s All Abilities Walk and encourages everyone to come out.
“It’s powerful,” she says.
A spiritual person, Mary Ann believes God reveals himself to us all the time, especially when we need him most. For her, those revelations come in the form of roses and in the number 222. Catholics associate roses with St. Therese of Lisieux, often called “The Little Flower.”
“I cannot tell you how many times in the middle of a difficult run I will see roses or, for some reason I cannot explain, the number 222,” she says. “One day when I was particularly exhausted, I looked over and saw this girl with a rose tattoo. And many times when I am struggling, I will see the number 222. It might be on a license plate, or a billboard or something. It always inspires me.”
To support Mary Ann and Mikey with a donation, search Ryan’s Run 9 online and click on Mary Ann’s photo. To support them spiritually, why not say a little prayer every time you see a rose or 222?
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.