Mikaela Welti is the Forrest Gump of Melbourne.
The Inaugural Melbourne Rebels Super W player and current Team Dietician is running for a cause bigger than sport this spring.
The Shake It Up Foundation holds a special place in Mikaela’s heart after her colleague’s dad was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease at just 46 years of age.
Six years on, he has now undergone Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery in September, that aims to assist in easing symptoms that cause issues with movement and pain.
Inspired to make a difference, Mikaela and her community at Tribute Boxing (where she is a co-owner) have set out on a ‘Run Club’ fundraiser – raising valuable money for the Australian Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease Research – with Mikaela setting the extraordinary personal challenge of running a half-marathon every day for 60 days.
“Parkinson’s disease does not have a cure and it is a progressive disease,” she said.
“But physical activity can help. Being active and having a positive mindset can actually slow down the progression of Parkinson’s Disease.”
“I wanted to set myself a challenge to give back to the fundraiser.”
“I thought, why not do it a running capacity? For the last five or six years, I’ve been running every day, comfortably 10-15km most days with one rest day a week. I wanted to do something that not everyone can do. Something challenging for me but also achievable.”
“The 60 days came into play because the fundraiser was scheduled to end on October 17th and the day that we had this conversation just happened to be 60 days out. I said, on a whim, I’m going to do it every day for 60 days until the end of the fundraiser and haven’t looked back since.”
The Run Club’s aim has been to raise $5,000 through the collective goal of running, walking, riding or swimming 20,000kms by Sunday October 17th. With over 125 people participating in the fundraiser for the Shake it Up Foundation, there has been a wave of support around Melbourne for the special cause.
You are likely to see Mikaela clocking up her daily 21km run around South Yarra, Albert Park, Richmond or Abbotsford in the early hours of the morning. Speaking on day 50 out of 60 overall, the Inaugural Super W player said she runs a different route depending on how she feels - after nutting out the different streets, distances and trails around Melbourne.
“To be honest, physically I’m really surprised I’ve gotten this far and not broken down,” she said.
“The first 10 days were the hardest. But now my body has gotten used to it; it’s definitely more of a mental challenge than a physical one at this point.”
“I remember my partner Richard said to me, why don’t you just do 21km in 21 days - because I was struggling. I was like damn… I’m only 21 days in and I’ve got 39 days to go.”
“It was very much a mental battle. But having people come on runs, even if it’s just 5 or 10 km helps so much. It’s all about sticking to my word. It’s been easy to keep myself accountable by logging it on Strava and keeping my community involved.”
Mikaela’s team at Tribute Boxing have already smashed through their target of $5000, raising over $8,700 for the Shake it Up Foundation with nine days of fundraising to go (Fundraiser is scheduled to end on October 17th).
Mikaela credits the support network of her running group of five; Hoang, Leo, Jess, Loz, Randall and Josh, for helping her through the unrelenting 60 days, as well as her partner and Melbourne Rebels player Richard Hardwick for ‘jumping in for the last five kilometres of each run when he can’.
“My running group has been huge,” she said.
“Even if they’re not running the whole 21km with me, it’s just having that human connection again. I think it’s much more enjoyable to be running with other people. They’ve been an absolute godsend during these 60 days.”
“I’ve made that commitment not just to myself, but other people. Having a daily sponsor is really helpful as well and really pushed me through.”
“At the end of the day, I had a couple of days early on when I slept through my alarm and I didn’t run in the morning. It’s the worst feeling when you don’t stick to what you said you were going to do, because it’s so much harder to get motivated to run in the afternoon or after a big day at work. I’ve gotten to the point now where I have to do it; there’s no point putting it off, pressing snooze or moping about it.”
“The quicker I do it, the quicker I can get on with my day. I always feel better and more accomplished when I get home at 7am and I’ve run 21km days before my partner Richard has gotten out of bed. I have a mentality now of just do it and not overthink it.”
Although running 21 kilometres may seem out of reach for the everyday person, Mikaela is certain that anybody can take the lessons of perseverance and mental toughness from this incredible physical and mental challenge and reap the benefits.
“Consistency is key,” she said.
“Don’t go try running from zero to 21km, or else I promise you won’t be able to walk for four days.”
“Start a small time-based goal. People try and put a kilometre goal in place and have no understanding of how far they can actually run. I suggest with beginners to run based on time -whether it’s run as far as you can in 15m. That way, you get a better understanding of where you are at.”
“Don’t underestimate what you can do with 10% increases over weeks to get to 21km eventually. Recovery is also key. Mobility, foam rolling, and ice baths all helps a million times over.”
Mikaela has well and truly become part of the furniture at AAMI Park over the last four years. She believes her role as a player and sports dietitian for the Melbourne Rebels has allowed her to follow her passions and make a lasting impact on the health and fitness of those in the sport she loves.
“It’s amazing to have come into the Rebels from all angles,” she said.
“From a professional perspective, I’m working within the environment to help the men’s team, Super W and Academy as a sports dietician.
“To say I’m a mad Rebels fan is an understatement. My passion for the club has grown rapidly in the four years I’ve been involved.”
“The people, environment, experience and opportunities I’ve gotten from the club have been next to none.”
“I’ll always be a rebel in my heart.”
Mikaela spent her first four seasons in Victorian Club Rugby for the Box Hill/Harlequins Women’s team in the Lindroth Cup, but after the club could not gather the numbers to enter the competition in 2021, she joined the ‘family club’ and group of ‘sisters’ at Power House.
According to Mikaela, building a strong aerobic base and adding cardiovascular exercise to any rugby program this off-season will produce invaluable benefits for the 2022 season.
“For everyone who plays rugby, you know that you have to have a pretty good ticker to get through 80 mins of full-on contact.”
“I think any increase in running will improve aerobic capacity. In many moments throughout the game you’re using your anerobic system. Having a good line baseline from running is going to make my life so much easier.”
“I cannot emphasise how important it is to have a good aerobic base to do well in getting through a whole game and season of rugby.”
Running 21km for 60 days is only one way Mikaela is impacting the community. She has combined her love for rugby with a newfound passion for boxing, where she is a now a co-owner at Tribute Boxing.
According to Mikaela, she feels blessed to have found a profession where she can use her passion to make a lasting impact on people’s lives.
“My love for boxing started because of rugby.”
“My current boxing coach was the old strength and conditioning coach at the Harlequins Rugby Club and I wanted to keep fit during the off-season. I was told that boxing is a great way for rugby players to stay fit because it’s all about anerobic short bursts of energy.”
“I hit Leo up and he invited me down to tribute – I fell in love with the gym and ended up doing my first-ever fight in March this year and won the lightweight title in my first fight.”
“I love what I do every single day and it goes hand in hand with my role as Sports Dietician at the Rebels. I’m surrounded by people who want to be better, perform better and improve their health.”
“It is a challenge balancing it all, but when you do something you love, it doesn’t feel like work.”
“I just find a way.”
The Shake it Up Australia Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation established in 2011 that funds Parkinson's Disease research in Australia aimed at better treatments and ultimately a cure.
Donate to the Run Club for the Shake It Up Foundation here