Mary Ann Ratajczak crossed the finish line at last year’s New York City Marathon and became a cliché. Like so many who complete their first 26.2 mile race, she vowed never to do it again. “One and done,” she pronounced. A year later, she’s eating those words. Happily.
On Nov. 3, she will run her second marathon. Like last year, it will be through the five boroughs of New York City. And also like last year, it will be for Mikey Ash.
Mikey was Mary Ann’s motivation to get through the trials of preparing for her first marathon, and he’s playing that role once again. “When I think it’s getting too hard, when I want to quit, I just think of Mikey and I get the strength I need,” she says.
As she was last year, Mary Ann will be part of “Ryan’s Run,” a fund-raising venture spearheaded by WNEP-TV’s news personality Ryan Leckey to raise money for Allied Services. Allied provides a variety of care for children and adults with disabilities. Mikey, about to turn 14, is one of those children.
Mikey has a rare genetic condition called Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, which leaves him with a diminutive stature and causes difficulties with language, feeding himself and other degrees of intellectual disabilities. Mikey also has been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. To participate in Ryan’s Run, one must identify an “ambassador.” Mikey is Mary Ann’s.
Mikey’s mom Nicole, a pediatric nurse, and Mary Ann, an endoscopy nurse, formed an instant friendship. And Mikey immediately won Mary Ann’s heart. She gets choked up when she describes seeing him cheering for her at mile 22 during last year’s marathon.
This will be “Ryan’s Run 10.” Through the first nine, $3.2 million has been raised to support Allied Services.
After meeting Mary Ann a year ago, I wrote she was “a 54-year-old mom, who’d easily pass for 34 or younger.” This year, she is a 55-year-old mom … who’d easily pass for 34 or younger. She’s completed 8 half-marathons but last year was her first full 26.2-mile run. She credits her husband John for encouraging her to try a marathon and her training partner Paul Shafer for getting her physically prepared. But for her mental preparation – she stresses running a marathon is more mental than physical – she credits Mikey. She lights up when she talks about Mikey’s effort at the All Abilities Run, a Ryan’s Run pre-event, last week in Scranton where the ambassadors take to the track.
“We kept telling him it was all right to walk, but he kept saying, ‘No. Run,’” she says. “I think about him when the training hurts. I think of what he goes through every day of his life.”
Mary Ann says she learned of another source of support during last year’s New York City Marathon: the people lining the route. “The support from these people, these strangers, is unbelievable,” she says. “We have our names on our shirts and people were yelling, ‘C’mon, Mary Ann. You can do it.’”
The former Mary Ann Vidzar, a native of Yatesville and a Pittston Area graduate, Mary Ann insists she is no athlete. “I never ran a step until I turned 50,” she says.
When I spoke with her last year, Mary Ann said she is a spiritual person who believes God reveals himself to us all the time, especially when we need him most. She said, for her, those revelations come in the form of roses and in the number 222. She’ll come upon a rose or see that number at a time when she could really use inspiration and she knows all is well, God is with her.
Catholics associate roses with St. Therese of Lisieux, often called “The Little Flower.” Before last year’s marathon, I texted Mary Ann a photo of a bouquet of roses someone had placed at the feet of a statue of St. Therese at St. Joseph Marello Church. I’ve sent several other photos of roses throughout the year, including one of the rose tattoo on my son-in-law’s thigh and another just last week of a jacket adorned with roses worn by one of my students.
Mary Ann says she intends to enjoy this year’s marathon experience even more, to look around the city, to take photos on her phone. “I’m not worried about how long it will take me. If I have to walk a little, I will. But I guarantee you I will run across the finish line.”
And when she does, will she want to call it quits as she did last year? “Well,” she said when I asked her that, “I’m thinking I’d like to do Steamtown next fall. Or maybe another Ryan’s Run.”
Marathons and Mikey, it seems, are not yet out of her system.
To support Mary Ann and Mikey with a donation, search “Ryan’s Run 10’ online, click on Support the Team, find Mary Ann’s photo and click on it. Every donation of $30 gets you a pretty cool T-shirt.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.