The Ultimate RockaWarrior Trains for the NYC Marathon

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Back in January, Michael Hornung wasn’t much of a runner when he made the decision to take on one of the biggest running challenges in the world—The TCS New York City Marathon. However, where there’s a will there’s away, and the drive behind Hornung’s will is to honor his late father, Mickey Hornung, and to bring awareness to the disease his father battled—Parkinson’s. Taking on the persona of a wrestling-inspired character, The Ultimate RockaWarrior, Hornung has turned the boardwalk into his ring as he prepares for the big matchup ahead of him on November 4. 

As you enjoy your evenings on the boardwalk, don’t be alarmed by a running man donning warrior paint and a golden belt. It’s just The Ultimate RockaWarrior! Hornung has adopted this persona to bring more attention to his cause, and to pay homage to something he and his father enjoyed—wrestling. “When I was a kid, my dad and I would watch wrestling all the time. The Ultimate Warrior was one character that was always larger than life and fought for the greater good,” Hornung said. After moving to Rockaway in June, Hornung decided to put a local spin on the name of the pro-wrestler from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and became The Ultimate RockaWarrior.

Hornung now uses the character as a way to make training fun as he prepares for the task ahead, the NYC Marathon on November 4. Sometimes donning the belt and warrior paint, or colored sunscreen, Hornung trains on the boardwalk three times a week. “As The Ultimate RockaWarrior, I’ll sometimes run to one side of the boardwalk, pretending it’s like ropes on a wrestling ring, and I’ll bounce off and run to the other side. It becomes mundane just running back and forth, so it’s something to keep my brain going,” Hornung said. And occasionally, he’ll scream out, “The Ultimate RockaWarrior” as he runs. Why? So people search it on the internet.

With a quick Google search, you can find Hornung’s social media accounts that explain exactly what he’s fighting for. Hornung is on this quest to raise awareness and funds for the Parkinson’s Foundation. When Hornung was a middle-schooler, his father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. At the time, there was very little information out there on this debilitating illness. “There was only one website on it at the time and there wasn’t a lot of information, so when my dad was going through this, as a kid, I didn’t really know what was going on or what Parkinson’s meant. This one time, my sister and I were in the car with him and we’re sitting at a red light and all of a sudden, he hits the car in front of us, tapping the bumper. The driver gets out of the car, sees the bumper and says it’s fine and gets back in his car. Then we joked with my dad, saying, ‘I can’t believe you hit that guy’ and we just started talking like everything was fine. Then he hits the car again,” Hornung recalled. “I was 16 years old and just learning how to drive myself and I had to have this conversation with him about it being time to take away his driver’s license.” With little information out there, Hornung and his family were unable to really understand Mickey’s behavior.

In 2009, Mickey Hornung died at 56. “He died of a heart attack,” Hornung said. “A lot of patients with Parkinson’s will try to hide their health issues and often take a lot of medications. My father was trying to take control of it by getting back into shape. He was doing everything right and he went to the gym and that’s where he passed. He was trying his best, but sometimes you can’t do it alone.”

It wasn’t until after his father passed, that Hornung was able to access more resources and information that explained why his father did certain things beyond the trembling, like hitting the same car twice while driving. Understanding that there are others out there that might feel like they’re facing Parkinson’s alone, and others who may not completely grasp what Parkinson’s does, Hornung decided to run the marathon to bring attention to the disease, and to let those going through it, know that someone is fighting for them.

“Even though my father passed away, I’m still fighting for the research. I know from my experience with my dad, that while going through this disease, which can be dehumanizing, you don’t know if the world is with you. Plus a lot of people don’t understand what Parkinson’s is. They just think of it as shaking, but it’s not just motor skills that are impacted. Some patients also suffer from depression, anxiety and mood disorders because they’re not dealing with the disease properly, plus other symptoms. So by creating this character and running this marathon, I wanted to let people with Parkinson’s know that I’m here fighting for them and trying to be a superhero that can bring more awareness to this disease,” he said.

Hornung has set out to raise $3,500 for the Parkinson’s Foundation before marathon day. As of press time, he’s about halfway there. To donate, head to https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/parkinsons-foundation-nyc-2018/michaelhornung2

Does he think he can run the full 26 miles in November? “Back in January, a friend convinced me to do this. I was 30 pounds heavier and so in over my head. I figured the worst that could happen is that I don’t finish, but I will have raised money for the Parkinson’s Foundation. But I started training and told myself, I can’t do that. I’ve been following a training program and I’m getting into the habit of running every week,” Hornung said. This week, he’ll be running his first 13-miler.

Sharing his journey on social media has brought accountability to the goal. He’s also counting on supporters to get him through on marathon day. “People that have done the marathon tell me that the first 15 miles are hard, but as it gets later, you start seeing more people you know. Friends and family have already been telling me which mile they’ll be at, so that’ll keep me going. I don’t know how I can do this, but I’m just going to,” he said. Doing it for his father also serves as inspiration. “He was somebody who did things for other people and he would do a lot of fundraisers for the community, friends and family, so me doing this for him, in honor of him, would be something he’d be really proud of.”

To follow Hornung’s journey, “Like” The Ultimate RockWarrior” on Facebook and TheUltimateRockaWarrior on Instagram.

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