Franklin (Livonia, Mich.) senior Michael Mackiewicz received the baton just three steps behind the John Glenn (Westland, Mich.) runner.
He began to run, falling farther and farther behind, but that wasn’t what mattered.
His teammates cheered him on as he made his way around the track — it would be the final time he did so competitively. Halfway through his lap, his teammates were joined by John Glenn’s entire team, which also began to cheer and shout, telling Mackiewicz that he was doing a great job.
When he crossed the finished line, the tired senior was hugged by coaches and teammates while his parents cried. He had finished his first — and last — race of the season.
“It was such an emotional event just to watch him compete one last time,” Livonia Franklin track and field coach Aaron Moran said. “It was really cool. To watch him come through and finish and stand at the finish line and look up and see the mob of Franklin kids running over to give him a hug, it really was an emotional experience.”
While the moment was an incredible one, Mackiewicz’s final race at Franklin wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
Michael was diagnosed with Lupus in Feb and was told he would not be able to run Track. Thank you Coach Moran for making this happen! Thank you Rus,Andrew & Logan for running so hard! @CoachMoran31 @fhspatriots #LupusAwareness @fhstrack @fhsgirlscctrack #4x4relay pic.twitter.com/kLplwQzaGk
— JeepMom77 (@k_mackiewicz) May 8, 2019
Something feels wrong
Just several months ago, he was one of the best runners on the team, poised to run at the collegiate level, but after running an indoor race in January, he noticed he wasn’t feeling well and told his coach he needed a few days off.
He felt far more fatigued than normal, his joints were swelling up and his body was tight. His parents took him to see a doctor, hoping it was just a form of the flu. After a series of blood tests indicated it could be something related to arthritis, he was sent to another specialist, which meant more blood tests. From there, he was sent to the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor, where he finally got answers.
Anticipating that there would be a diagnosis, Mackiewicz waited with his parents in the hospital room. The doctor delivered the news; he had lupus.
Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems — including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
“The whole room was silent,” Mackiewicz said. “Everyone just went quiet and took it in for a second. … At first it was just a lot to take in. Everything that was happening with my body, everything was really sudden.”
From there, his life changed. He was unable to run track and instead was faced with routine doctors visits. Despite the adversity, Mackiewicz was determined to stay a part of the team.
“I wanted to make the best out of the situation,” Mackiewicz said.
He attended every practice and meet, doing whatever he could to assist the coaching staff. His support of the program was returned by his coaches and teammates, who were anxious to make sure Mackiewicz was doing well.
“Both my team and my coaches were extremely supportive,” Mackiewicz said. “Both my coaches are teachers at Franklin, so I’d see them a lot in the hallways. They always made sure to ask me how I was doing and when my next doctor’s appointment was and they’d find me the next day for updates, making sure they knew what was going on and seeing how the progress was going.”
His teammates did the same and continuously told him that if he ever needed anything, they’d be there to help.
“They made this a lot better than I ever could’ve asked for,” Mackiewicz said.
The process of dealing with the disease wasn’t easy. His daily routine changed, he spent more time than he ever imagined possible at various doctor’s offices and hospitals.
At his worst point, the disease attacked his kidneys, resulting in a three night stay at the hospital.
“The swelling and everything in my joints just spread,” Mackiewicz said. “Every single day I’d wake up and my knuckles were swollen, a couple days later my shoulders were really tight, my elbows, everything. As time went on it just kept getting worse and worse.”
One last race
After learning that Mackiewicz would not be able to compete this season, the coaching staff, led by Moran, set out to find a way to honor him. The 800m was his best race, but that was out of the question now. Instead, Moran came up with the idea to have Mackiewicz run the final leg of the 4×4 400, relay with three other seniors who would be running in college: Russell Rusnell (United States Naval Academy at Annapolis), Andrew Ulaszek (Lawrence Technological University) and Logan Evanchuck (Madonna University).
He expected his team to win the meet comfortably and hoped that the final race wouldn’t be close by the time Mackiewicz was set to run his part of the race. He got permission from Mackiewicz’s parents and asked him the day before the meet if he wanted to run.
He was thrilled — but shocked. He absolutely wanted to run one final time.
“That moment was unbelievable,” Mackiewicz said. “I didn’t expect it to happen at all.”
The meet, which took place on May 7 at Franklin High School, was the final home meet of the year, meaning that Mackiewicz would be the last person to run on the track this season.
Given his condition, he was only able to stretch and do relatively light running and jogging. He was far from his previous form when he took the track that afternoon, but that wouldn’t stand in his way.
Before the meet began, Moran took the time to give a short speech about each of the team’s seniors and then events got started. When it was time for the final relay, Moran called down Mackiewicz’s parents so they could be on the sideline while their son ran.
Franklin was in control of the meet overall, and went on to win, 93-44. The 4×4 400m relay was the day’s final event. Despite Moran thinking the race wouldn’t be competitive, his seniors had something else in mind — all three running their fastest time ever in the event.
Rusnell ran first, clocking in at 57 seconds. Ulaszek went next and recorded a time of 54 seconds and Evanchuck went third, finishing with a 1:01. From there, it was history.
The relay team lost the race, but it was the happiest loss anyone involved had ever experienced.
Lupus is not curable, but Mackiewicz should be able to live a relatively normal life. He’ll still spend plenty of time visiting doctors, but the frequency of those visits could decline to just a handful per year if things continue to improve.
It’s a rare disease — especially rare for males, who account for around 10% of lupus cases according to Medical News Today, but Mackiewicz has fought it bravely.
“I’m definitely a lot better than what I was earlier,” Mackiewicz said. “I’m on a restricted diet and I have a lot of medicine I need to take, so it’s definitely still a change from before all this happened, but normal day-to-day, it doesn’t affect me too much. About once every two weeks I’ll have a bad day where I’ll wake up a little stiff and sore and tired and out of it, but for the most part, nothing to major affects me to where it brings me down.”
He said he is starting to get back on a normal schedule and has been able to be a little more active with light workouts. He will attend U-M Dearborn for electrical engineering in the fall.
“Math has always been a strong-suit for me, I love the subject,” Mackiewicz said. “I love working out problems. I was always in accelerated course and this year I took AP calculus and physics. The courses just fit right for me.”
The school allows him to stay local while pursuing a degree in a field he’s passionate about. He won’t be able to run track there, but participating in the sport has given him more than he ever thought possible and he’s grateful for all the experiences he’s had.
“We’ve always been a large family,” Mackiewicz said. “It’s been a great experience. I didn’t run much coming into high school, but my sister was in cross country and she talked me into it. It was a great decision.”