My Sportsman: Edison Peña
Some run for health. Others run for vanity.
Edison Peña ran for control.
With his fate unsettled 2,300 feet below the surface, Peña found salvation in the uneven ground of a copper and gold mine shaft in the Atacama Desert near Copiapó, Chile. Now known to the world as the Running Miner, the resourceful Peña used electricians' pliers to cut his steel-tipped, knee-high mining boots to ankle height so he could run each morning and afternoon. He ran six to seven miles a day in intense heat, his miner's lamp lighting the 1,000-yard path ahead of him. Through the darkness of the mine and his own mind, buoyed by the Elvis music on his iPod, he forged a battle against mine.
"I thought, I am going to beat destiny," the 33-year-old Peña said. "I was saying that to the mine. I can outrun you. I am going to run till you're tired and bored of me, and I did it."
Finally, after 69 days, he and his fellow miners were released to a worldwide audience. If the story ended there, Peña would earn admiration for his strength and ability to use sport to keep himself sane. But the running man didn't stop running. Officials for the New York Road Runners invited him to come to New York City to watch the New York Marathon as a VIP, but Peña did not want to watch: He wanted to run. "I wanted to participate because I wanted to feel what the New York Marathon feels like," Peña said.
Three weeks after he had been rescued from his 69-day ordeal in the ground, Peña ran along the streets of New York. He struggled, as most often do in their first marathon. The throbbing in his knee became so intense at Mile 18 that he contemplated quitting. Peña ran the first half of the race in two hours and seven minutes, but the pain forced him to walk 10 miles of the race. He stopped at first aid stations for ice packs and ducked into a medical tent between Miles 19 and 20 to get ice packs for his ailing knees.
But Peña did not quit. In the mine, he ran alone. In New York, he was cheered by millions. I watched him on television from my home three miles from the finish line, flanked by two yellow-shirted volunteers, including a cook from the Bronx. It was inspiring. He finished the marathon in 5 hours, 40 minutes and 51 seconds, the Chilean flag waving in the wind behind him.
"In this marathon I struggled," Peña said after the race. "I struggled with myself, I struggled with my own pain, but I made it to the finish line."
No finer words were spoken in sports in 2010. Sportsman of the Year.