In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

June 13, 2017

Andy Romaniuk Is a One-Man Walking Polka Party

By In the Loop

Over 30 years ago, Andy Romaniuk took his doctor’s advice and started walking. And he hasn’t stopped since, logging thousands of miles. Recently, Andy started playing polka music on his walks – a tribute of sorts to his late wife.

More than 30 years ago, Andy Romaniuk took his doctor’s advice and started walking. He hasn’t stopped since, logging thousands of miles, and recently added polka music to the mix. 

Andy Romaniuk got some troubling news at his first appointment at Mayo Clinic. His blood pressure and cholesterol were high. "I was heading for a big heart attack or big stroke," he says. His doctor told him the cure lay not in a prescription or procedure, but in his own hands. Or rather, in his own feet. "The doctor told me I needed to exercise and suggested that I start walking," Andy says. So he did, lacing up his shoes and walking a half-mile the very next day.

That was 33 years ago. Since then, Andy has logged thousands (and thousands) of miles, sometimes walking 20 miles or more a day. And at 89, he's still very much on the move. He walks for exercise, of course. But also to buy groceries, visit friends and get to doctor appointments at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. "I ride in my two-wheel cart," he tells us, grinning mischievously as he slaps the right and left "wheels" that power him through all of those miles.

And Romaniuk at home near Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Recently, Andy started traveling with another cart: a small luggage cart that he pulls behind him, outfitted with a cassette player. And now, wherever he walks, the bright sounds of polka music follow. Andy tells us the music reminds him of his sweetheart, Mary. They were married for 50 years before she passed away from Alzheimer's disease in 2009. Andy cared for her throughout her illness, a dedication that was profiled by the Dodge County Independent.

"After she was diagnosed, I took classes and learned that the last things to go were sense of humor and love of music," Andy says. And his Mary loved music. "When we'd go places, we'd stop at a music store and buy a cassette or a CD," he tells us. That was in keeping with the couple's tradition of buying each other small gifts throughout the year. "After we got married, I told her, 'What if we have Christmas all year long? We tell each other what we like, and if we can afford it, we'll get it.'"

The music that made Mary happy is now making other people happy, too. "It makes people smile," Andy says. "Lots of people come up and thank me for sharing my music. Young people thank me, people in the shops thank me." And recently, a Mayo Clinic patient thanked him. "She told me she wanted to give me a hug and said, 'That's for making people happy this morning.' I think the music is good for people," Andy tells us. "And at my age, it's good for me, too."

All that walking has been good for Andy as well. His healthy habits have helped him survive several big hits over the past 14 years, including a heart attack and stomach cancer. In spite of those health challenges, he takes no medication and recently received a glowing report from his doctor. "He told me," Andy says, "that I'm the healthiest patient he has."

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