Michelle Wheeler: The Do-It-All Mom Racing Her First Mini
Together We Run: Stories of the NYRR New York Mini 10K
The 47th NYRR New York Mini 10K, set for June 9, empowers women of all ages and fitness levels to be active and feel great on the run. The world’s original women-only road race, the Mini has had nearly 200,000 finishers since its first running in 1972, representing a diverse range of ages, backgrounds, and abilities. Over the weeks leading up to race day we’ll get to know a handful of entrants in this year’s race.
Michelle Wheeler is a single mom, student, and professional wheelchair racer who trains full-time while holding down a full-time job.
How does she do it all? Balance and scheduling, says Wheeler, who begins each day by getting her 9-year-old daughter ready for school. Then she’s off to her morning training session before moving on to schoolwork and a flexible job that allows her to work from home. “Once my daughter comes home, we’ll spend time together, then it’s dinner and her activities, and then my evening training,” she says.
“My daughter is very easygoing,” says Wheeler. “She’s always been very independent, so as she got older, it got easier to get back to racing and pursuing my career.”
In 2016, Wheeler, who’d been participating in sprinting events on and off since childhood, began training full-time at Penn State, where she’s also completing her master’s degree in mental health and rehabilitation counseling. “I knew I had a lot of catching up to do,” says the 31-year-old. “But to see where I’m at now is really an achievement.”
In March, Wheeler won the LA Marathon in 2:16:36. “I didn’t think I had a shot since I was competing with injured ribs and hadn’t had consistent training while trying to recuperate,” she says. “After I won, it boosted my confidence and I’ve only gotten better since.”
Still, Wheeler is new to distance racing. “While my ultimate goal is to go to the Paralympics and compete in sprinting events, I enjoy racing marathons and other road races where I am able to gain knowledge and experience, and meet amazing people along the way,” she says.
On June 9, Wheeler will race the NYRR New York Mini 10K, which will feature a professional wheelchair division for the first time this year. She’ll be joined by Paralympians Tatyana McFadden, Amanda McGrory, Chelsea McClammer, and Susannah Scaroni in what is believed to be the only all women’s professional wheelchair race in the world.
The event will also include a youth wheelchair heat with participants from NYRR’s Youth Wheelchair Training Program—a group that Wheeler has great advice for: “I try to encourage young audiences by telling them they can be anything they want to be,” she says. “It may seem hard at first, but with a little work and dedication they can achieve their goals.”
As a small child, Wheeler suffered a spinal cord injury as the result of being abused. When she was nine, she was adopted by a family with nine children—six adopted, each with disabilities. Her adoptive parents encouraged adaptive sports to build their kids’ confidence and show them that their disabilities didn’t define them.
“While I enjoy competing, I hope to use my own experiences and knowledge to help pave the way for more individuals to get involved with adaptive sports and also to break down barriers that individuals with disabilities face in their everyday lives,” she says. “After all, we all deserve to show our greatness.”
On June 9, the professional wheelchair race at the NYRR New York Mini 10K will begin at 7:50 a.m. on Central Park West at 61st Street and will finish at 67th Street on West Drive, with athletes vying for a first-place prize of $1,250. It will be streamed live by USATF.TV.