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Published: Monday, 11/8/2010

Chilean miner who beat odds conquers New York marathon goal

Edison Pena carries a Chilean flag as he finishes the New York City marathon. The rescued miner finished in 5 hours, 40 minutes, and 51 seconds. Edison Pena carries a Chilean flag as he finishes the New York City marathon. The rescued miner finished in 5 hours, 40 minutes, and 51 seconds.
KATHY WILLENS / AP Enlarge

NEW YORK - A Chilean miner ran, walked, and hobbled his way to the finish line of the New York City Marathon Sunday, showing the passionate grit that helped him survive more than two months trapped underground.

Edison Pena, 34, crossed the Central Park finish line with in 5 hours, 40 minutes, 51 seconds.

He was draped in a Chilean flag as Elvis music played over the speakers.

The survivor had beaten his goal - to finish the course through the city's five boroughs in six hours.

Bags of ice covered his swollen knees as a grim-faced Mr. Pena walked the second half of the marathon, but he summoned enough energy to run the last stretch along Central Park West.

"It was worthwhile for me to come this far to run a marathon, because I want to motivate people," he said. "I want to convince them that they can do what they set out to do in life.

"In this marathon I struggled. I struggled with myself, I struggled with my own pain, but I made it to the finish line. I want to motivate other people to also find the courage and strength to transcend their own pain."

He achieved the personal victory just weeks after he jogged daily in stifling heat and near darkness 2,300 feet underground. He and 32 other men spent 69 days in the caved-in mine.

Edison Pena is greeted at the finish by Mary Wittenberg, center, New York Road Runners president, and his wife, Angelica Alvarez. Cheers prodded him on and supporters helped keep pace. Edison Pena is greeted at the finish by Mary Wittenberg, center, New York Road Runners president, and his wife, Angelica Alvarez. Cheers prodded him on and supporters helped keep pace.
KATHY WILLENS / AP Enlarge

He said running was his salvation - his way of proving how much he wanted to live.

During the marathon, the strong will that kept him focused came shining through.

It didn't seem to matter whether No. 7127 actually finished the race running into Central Park - or ended his first marathon barely making it.

To the cheering crowds, he was already a winner among the 45,000 runners, including some of the world's best marathoners.

At a postmarathon news conference, Mr. Pena was asked to compare his hours in the New York race with the days in the mines.

"In the mine, I ran alone," he said.

He called the marathon "an incredible dream" - because of "how warm and welcoming and supportive the Americans are here," with signs along the route reading "Go, Edison!" and "Go for it!"

Mr. Pena said he also was motivated by Chileans shouting and waving his country's flag.

His persistence in the face of terrifying odds had made him a global folk hero on his first-ever trip outside Chile. The Elvis fan entertained America for days in New York City with banter and by singing Presley songs.

Sunday, he was a man on a mission. He started off running in Staten Island at 9:40 a.m. About an hour into the marathon, a grimace crossed his face as he slowed, apparently in pain.

But as spectators cheered him on and supporters helped him keep pace, he kept running, his knee bound in black.

Shortly after noon, "The Runner" - as fellow miners had nicknamed him - left Brooklyn and entered Queens, reaching the 14-mile mark of the race.

He left the course suddenly and went into a medical tent for help. He emerged around 1 p.m., bags of ice tied to both knees. He said later he had a bad left knee before the cave-in, which exacerbated it. But he ran anyway.

"I wanted to show that I could do it," Mr. Pena said.

That kind of determination made him push away the fear that the 33 men might never make it out.

The miner cut his steel-tipped electrician's boots down to ankle height so he could train each morning and afternoon along the rocky, muddy 1,000-yard corridor where the men were trapped.

He built up strength by dragging a large wooden pallet that was attached to a cord tied to his waist.

NYC Marathon officials heard about Mr. Pena's subterranean training and planned to invite him as an honored guest.

But he wanted to run the race.

"I could have come here to watch the marathon instead of running," Mr. Pena said. "I could have just been a special guest, but I wanted to take up the challenge of running."

Mr. Pena hasn't competed in years as an amateur runner. And since the rescue, he covered only 6 1/2 miles as part of a triathlon team event in Chile on Oct. 24.

Sunday he again was doing what he could, moving step by step, painfully, toward the Central Park finish line.

At the news conference in Manhattan's Mandarin Oriental hotel, an elated but weary Mr. Pena at first declined to sing some Elvis music, but eventually gave in and delivered "Don't Be Cruel."

"Do you want me to dance as well?" he jokingly asked.

He has his eyes on the next prize - another marathon to "improve my time. … I know that's a possibility."



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