Former U.S. Senator and St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman turns 70 on Saturday, and one of his longtime friends plans to walk 70 miles in Coleman’s honor — and raise money for charity at the same time.
Erich Mische, who was a top aide and key adviser to Coleman, said the “70 Miles for 70 Years” event beginning Friday and continuing into Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center is an attempt to send moral support to Coleman during his battle with cancer.
“He’s a good friend, a good guy,” Mische said. “I thought it would be a nice way to do something to tell him we’re all thinking about him.”
It’s also a fundraising opportunity for Mische’s nonprofit, Spare Key, which serves families with a critically ill or seriously injured family member by providing housing grants.
“Some are dealing with a parent that has cancer; some have a kid that was in a bad accident or something,” Mische said. “We’re going to ask people to go online and make a donation directly to them and whatever expenses they may have.”
Coleman said he already has a birthday celebration planned with family at his cabin near Lake Ada in northern Minnesota, so he will not be at the walk but is in full support.
“I’m very humbled that he would do this in my honor,” he said. “I told him I think he’s a little crazy, but I do say that lovingly.”
Coleman began battling neck and throat cancer in 2015. In 2018, he announced the cancer had spread to his lungs and was in the most advanced stage. In July, he underwent surgery at Mayo Clinic to remove part of a lung where the cancer had re-emerged.
“I’m fine,” he said Wednesday. “I’m in the next phase of what I call trying to beat the beast, to beat cancer.”
Coleman said he will call in to the walk at some point to give words of encouragement to Mische and others.
The event at the Xcel Energy Center — an arena Coleman was instrumental in getting built — isn’t open to the public, but Mische has asked others who know Coleman to sign up to walk alongside him.
“My hope is that we can broadcast and share our stories about Norm,” said Mische, who expects to make 290 laps of the main concourse to hit 70 miles.
Dino Guerin, emergency preparedness director at the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, said he signed up because of his longtime admiration for Coleman.
“I know other elected officials when they walk into a room they look for the most important person in the room, and Norm never did that,” he said. “He would walk into a party and he’d spend more time talking to the servers. I always admire that.”
Mische became executive director of Spare Key in 2012 and said he hopes the event highlights the financial hardships that families endure during a medical crisis. For more information, go to http://www.HelpMeBounce.org.
“We’re trying to help families with more than just housing grants,” he said “We want to help with other bills they’ve got: utility, car payments, student loans.”