As Kansas City's Running Superman Heads To Retirement, He Leaves A Trail Of Love
Michael Wheeler, known to strangers all over town as KC Superman, hasn't always run in a cape.
The 67-year-old has run regularly for more than 40 years. Initially he ran from bullies and depression. It wasn't until 2011 that he added the bright blue T-shirt and a shiny cape.
Wheeler plans to retire from this role after a "Farewell to the Cape" run on Saturday, February 23, but that just means he's expanding his course.
"I've got to shift to another level. I'm going to turn it up all the way," Wheeler said.
By that, he means that he's going to run and spread the love in other countries. He's already run in every state, but in May he's going to China for the Great Wall Marathon.
Part of the power and charm of Wheeler's mission is that at some point — maybe after the cape went on — he started running toward something, rather than away. He mostly ran toward the happiness of fellow Kansas Citians and toward spreading the love of Jesus.
Wheeler said his use of running was like the character Forrest Gump's use of running. Wheeler's sister was murdered in the early 1970s, and he had to do something. He ran and he prayed.
"It made me really sad, and broke my heart, and kind of depressed me," he said of her murder. "Like Forrest Gump, I laced up my shoes and I started running. Then I started seeing all the crime around, mothers weeping over their children being killed."
Running eased that pain and tension in him, and he's figured out that he can pass that relief on to others. He went to Ferguson, Missouri, during the riots after Michael Brown was killed. He's also travelled to Baltimore, Maryland, and Dallas, Texas, after similar incidents that caused unrest.
"People need inspiration and hope. In our world there's so much going on. People are fearful," Wheeler told KCUR. "There’s a lot of hate. If people just let that down, this would be a better world."
He doesn't go to cities in trouble in order to pick a side, but simply to be there and love people. He said it's part of his calling.
"People say, 'Be careful.' But I’m a soldier, a Vietnam soldier. Soldiers go on the frontline," he said.
Over the years, Wheeler has accepted countless requests for photographs.
One of Wheeler's many fans is Melissa Martin. She said she's not especially religious, but she believes in "kindness and love to every single person I meet, no matter race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and that’s what he preaches. I think he’s a shining light in Kansas City and he’s an icon, and I think he deserves to be celebrated."
She's asking that people from all over the metro send her their Wheeler selfies for a book she's putting together to give to him. She said so many people take selfies with him, it's likely that he hasn't seen most of the photos.
Though the Superman sightings will be much fewer and farther between, Wheeler will still be out there.
"As a little kid, I said I want to bring people together, whatever it takes. I grew up seeing Superman, and I'd play Superman jumping off the roof. It's a wonder I didn't break my leg,” Wheeler said. "I hope they'll take away that this man loves people. I love all races."
Send selfies with and stories about Michael Wheeler to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Wheeler and Melissa Martin spoke with Gina Kaufmann on a recent episode of KCUR's Central Standard. Listen to the full conversation here.
Follow KCUR contributor Anne Kniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.