Mark Zuehlke, 62, Retired, Construction Engineer/Locksmith, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
What inspired you to start doing races? In 2009, our daughter started running, because she was challenged by a coworker to do a full marathon to raise money for the American Cancer Society. After that, she has run many half marathongs, marathons, 10 milers, 15Ks, 10Ks, and 5Ks. My wife and I attended as many races as possible to support her. In January 2013, my wife and I went to the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend to cheer on our daughter for the full marathon. At the Expo, they had registration for the Disneyland Inaugural Dumbo Double Dare (10K and half marathon). The 10K theme was going to be Alice in Wonderland. Alice is our daughter’s favorite Disney character. My wife encouraged her to register for the Dumbo Double Dare because she had so much fun at Marathon Weekend.
Four months later, my wife passed away from a rare cancer. One week before she passed, she told our daughter that she was not going to make the races and would send pixie dust from heaven to make her fly through the race. That Labor Day weekend, I went to Disneyland with a tear in my eye and a heavy heart. I picked my three spots on the course to cheer for my daughter. During the race it wasn’t the same cheering alone. After the race, I asked my daughter if I could run any races. “Sure” she said, “if you start out with shorter races and work up to longer races you can do it”. May 2014, I ran my first race ever, it was Expedition Everest Challenge 5K. I liked it so much that signed up for my first 10K at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 2015. I was instantly hooked on Disney races, and I was ready for my first half marathon, the Disneyland Half Marathon in 2015.
Do you walk, run or run/walk, swim, cycle, do obstacles? I have been training the run/walk method by Jeff Galloway. I also do water yoga, and Power Currant (running and different exercises in water) at my local YMCA.
How many have you done? I have run nine races: three 5Ks, one 10K, five half marathons.
What do you feel is your greatest race accomplishment? I have had two great accomplishments. For my age group, I took second place in a half marathon with a time of 2:39. The other was my personal best in a 5K, 0:30:55.
Favorite race and why? My first half marathon at Disneyland during Labor Day weekend 2015. It was a wish I have had, to run in the kingdom and behind scenes.
Do you travel for races? Yes. I have traveled to Florida, California and Ohio.
Must-have gear on race day: My running shoes.
Weirdest place you’ve ever chafed: I haven’t run enough races to have experienced that problem.
Do you prefer to run in warm weather or cold weather? I prefer to run in cool weather, in the lower 60s, but warmer weather helps to prevent muscle cramps.
Weirdest/funniest thing you’ve ever experienced at a race: I was running my first half marathon at Disneyland about mile 11. As I rounded the corner, there was a band playing a song -I can’t even remember the song. I experienced what the guys in my men’s grievance group call “an ambush moment”. It’s when you least expect it, a sight, a smell, a song, something will make you start crying. Well … it happened. I started crying and my daughter stopped and said “are you hurt, are you ok?” I said, “I am having an ambush moment”. I regained my thoughts and proceeded to the finish line.
Worst experience during a race: An infection causing me to use the restroom twice during the race.
Most awesome moment you’ve ever had at a race: Running races with my daughter, sharing time together and creating new memories.
Your favorite part of participating in races: Crossing the finish line and hearing Rudy Novotny calling out my name.
Do you wear costumes? If so, what’s been your favorite? (Share a pic if you have one) Yes I have. Mickey Mouse, and Sully.
How important are awesome medals to you? The medals remind me of my accomplishments and the memories shared with my daughter.
Best medal you’ve earned so far: The Coast to Coast medal with Walt and Mickey.
Do you prefer to run alone or with a buddy? I would like to run with a buddy, but most all of my practice runs are alone. However, when I visit my daughter, we run together and with her running club. That’s where I met Eddie McCoy.
Favorite song on your playlist: I don’t take any along with me, I just enjoy my surroundings.
Who is your race hero and why? I have many people who are my heroes. Eddie McCoy has been a great friend, encouraging me, running with me and has inspired me with his story. Jeff Galloway has been helpful giving me good advice to make me become successful at running. The Mickey Milers Running Team has continually supported me. Last of all, my daughter who coached me, giving me great advice, keeping me motivated, and moving back to my corral to run side by side with me.
What is the top race on your bucket list? I would like to do the Walt Disney World Marathon. The Mickey Mouse medal would be a great addition to my collection.
Your advice for others who might be intimidated by signing up for a race: You are never too old to start running. After never running in my life, I started running at age 60. With patience, motivation, and determination anyone can succeed at running. There are so many wonderful people that will encourage and support you. No one is ever alone, and I have met so many wonderful people.
Anything else you’d like to add? Family is very important to me, and I have been blessed to have two daughters in my life.
Since this interview took place, Mark was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He’s undergone one surgery and is already back to running. He’ll pursue more surgery and more treatment. I have full faith and confidence that the combination of support and love Mark has coming his way, paired with awesome medical care and his healthy warrior attitude … Mark will cross many finish lines for many years to come. We all love you, Mark! Your next Fitzness feature is “How I kicked cancer’s can and conquered more finish lines.”