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Veteran Runner Laces up Sneakers to Inspire Young Black Men

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A 61-year-old man who has competed in 130 marathons believes his love of running can help young people in the urban core stay on the path to success. Michael Wheeler just finished the Kansas City Marathon. He says his accomplishments are a source of inspiration for young black men. Wheeler says getting African-American youth involved in distance running keeps them out of trouble.

"It's kind of like Forrest Gump," he said. "I feel good when I run."

Wheeler said he runs so much, he often gets compared to Forrest Gump. He served in Viet Nam like Tom Hanks' famous movie character. And where Gump met President Lyndon Johnson, Wheeler keeps a photo of the time he met President George Herbert Walker Bush. He also claims to have run coast-to-coast in all 50 states.

"They've been stopping me on the streets saying, 'Man how old are you?'" Wheeler said. "I tell them my age and they are shocked because, you know, I am running."

Now, Wheeler says he uses his running to inspire young people in the urban core who feel like they don't have many options in life. Michael Sanders, 22, doesn't have a job, but he stays positive by running with Wheeler.

"No, he ain't crazy," Sanders said. "He's just doing what he likes to do. You know, that's just running."

Wheeler says too often he sees stressed out young people turn to drugs. Sanders says he's learned from Wheeler that running and staying away from junk food makes him feel better than any drug on the streets.

"When I met him he said, 'I want to run with you,'" Wheeler said. "So we ran from here to Troost and back and he felt good. He said, 'This feels good.' It's all about mentoring, being a father figure to a lot of people."

Wheeler says many spend thousands of dollars to try to lose weight. He tells them to come run with him and he won't charge you a dime. He says he'll probably keep running until he draws his last breath.

Wheeler says he finished this year's Kansas City Marathon in about five hours. He's competed in the Boston Marathon eight times. And he often runs outside Arrowhead Stadium on Chiefs game days. He also travels to Super Bowl cities every year to run there.

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