The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 8, 2013

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Street preacher takes on role of Superman

PITTSBURG, Kan. — A quick confession: I sometimes imagine I’m Lois Lane and am happy for weather that dictates I wear a trench coat.

But when I saw Superman running past Pittsburg City Hall last week, I thought perhaps my fantasy had become a little too real. Or perhaps I needed new contact lenses.

I posted a plea on Facebook: Could anyone help me locate him?

As it turns out, a wiry black man with a white beard and eyeglasses jogging in a red cape and tights is easy to spot — for everyone but me. Messages lit up my Facebook page but I kept missing him.

Finally, a friend saw him run past and, thinking fast, chased him down, got his cell phone number and sent it to me.

Superman agreed to meet me at the Pittsburg Public Library.

This is his story:

His name is Michael Wheeler. He is 61 years old — will be 62 in June. Born in Ardmore, Okla., he has called Kansas City, Mo., home for 57 years, but isn’t there much. He’s on the road, running, like Forrest Gump. It’s a comparison he likes to bring up in conversation.

He was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1971 during the Vietnam War. He served stateside, but said he became a drug user, a drinker, even suicidal. He said he finally got clean and put his life back on track.

He became a pastor. An evangelist. And he began running. He doesn’t own a car, traveling from town to town on a Greyhound bus.

He claims he has run in 130 marathons. A cursory Internet search confirms he ran in several recent marathons with finish times that ranged from three to four hours.

He also claims to have run seven laps around each capital building in all 50 states. (The seven laps is a nod to the number of times Israelites marched around Jericho).

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