23 April, 2022
18 years and counting
WHEN Mareeba’s Michael Harnischfeger steps to the start of this year’s Great Wheelbarrow Race, it will be the 19th time he has taken on the gruelling event.
Michael has participated in every race since it began in 2004, challenging himself in all categories including duos, trios, groups and even running solo in the 140km event.
For Michael, the motivation to compete stemmed from the encouragement of a mate, on a random night out.
“A mate of mine told me about it one Friday night when it was first announced and we decided, why not?” he said.
“We won the over 40’s category that year and there were only about eight teams back then that competed, and it’s gotten quite big since then.
“I’ve done it every year since and you meet people that you only see at the Wheelbarrow Race, and they become your mates.”
Since starting, Michael hasn’t been afraid to get into costume, winning many best dressed categories, leaving spectators in awe.
From wearing a big iron bucket to take on the Ned Kelly personna to even wearing his undies on the outside as a wrestling champion, he is never short of outrageous ideas.
Yet no costume has beaten the year Michael and his wife went all out as Bonnie and Clyde and dominated the race as the iconic power couple.
According to Michael, the Bonnie and Clyde costume is up there with his favourites, but any theme he has done with his family topped the list.
Although he has tackled the race with his family many times, he has also run alongside others, some of which are very well known to the community.
“I did my first duo with Peter Apel before there was an actual duo category and then after that they introduced the category,” he said.
“After that, I did a duo with my eldest son and we won the duo that year and set the first record in the category.
“I have also done a duo race with former Mareeba mayor Chris Lewis.”
Michael’s legacy on the Wheelbarrow Race has been recognised by competitors past and present, after he was named Face of the Race one year.
As a person who regularly walks for exercise, when he starts to train for the race, Michael is often seen running down the street with his wheelbarrow, raising the eyebrows of neighbours.
One of those neighbours even asked to borrow the wheelbarrow after finding out he had one handy.
“It’s also a great excuse to get fit and get active even more, we walk every day but when the race is coming up, we always step into a bit of a run,” he said.
Michael says one of the things he enjoys is that his now adult children return home from down south to join him in the race.
“It’s something big that gives the kids an excuse to come home to Mareeba and this year I will be doing a social run with my son,” he said.
“He was meant to do it competitively, but he has torn his hamstring, so he can’t train up for it – he should be good for race day though.”