By The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — A Chilean miner ran, walked and hobbled his way to the finish line of the New York City Marathon on Sunday, showing the passionate grit that helped him survive more than two months trapped underground.
Edison Pena crossed the Central Park finish line at 3:24 p.m., with a time of 5 hours, 40 minutes, 51 seconds. He was draped in a Chilean flag as Elvis music played over the speakers.
The 34-year-old survivor had beat his own goal — to complete the course through the city’s five boroughs in six hours.
Bags of ice covered his swollen knees as a grim-faced Pena covered the last part of the 26.2-mile course.
“First, I want to run this marathon, but secondly, I’d like to motivate those people who aren’t running the marathon to do so in the future,” he said before starting Sunday morning. “I also want to especially motivate young children and youth to run because running makes you free.”
Pena’s personal victory came just weeks after he was still training in near-darkness, jogging each day 2,300 feet underground in stifling heat and humidity. He and 32 other men survived 69 days in the caved-in mine.
He said running was his salvation — his way of proving how much he wanted to live.
On this sunny day in Manhattan, the strong will that kept him focused came shining through.
It didn’t seem to matter to the world whether No. 7127 actually finished the race running into Central Park — or ended his first marathon barely making it.
To the wildly cheering crowds, he was already a winner among the 45,000 runners, including some of the world’s best marathoners.
Pena’s persistence in the face of terrifying odds had made him a global folk hero on his first-ever trip outside Chile, and he entertained America for days with his Elvis songs and banter.
On Sunday, he turned serious — a man on a mission.
Pena started off running in Staten Island at 9:40 a.m.
The trouble started about an hour into the marathon, when a grimace crossed his face as he slowed a bit, apparently already in pain. But cheered on by spectators and surrounded by supporters keeping pace, he kept running, his knee bound in black.
Shortly after noon, “The Runner” — as his fellow miners had nicknamed him — left Brooklyn and made his way into Queens, reaching the 14-mile mark of the race.
Suddenly, he left the course, going into a medical tent for help.
He emerged around 1 p.m., bags of ice tied to both his knees.
He already had a bad left knee, injured in Chile when the mine caved in.
But down there, he was determined to push away the fear that the 33 men might never make it out — by keeping his faith and doing “what could be done,” he said.
He 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 Pena’s subterranean training and planned to invite him as an honored guest. But he wanted to actually run the race.
In the mine, “if I had to run barefoot, I would have done it,” Pena told Associated Press Television News after his rescue.
Pena hasn’t competed in years as an amateur runner. And since the rescue, he covered only 6½ miles as part of a triathlon team event in Chile on Oct. 24.
On Sunday, he again was doing what he could, moving step by step, painfully, toward the Central Park finish line.
And as he put it before leaving Chile for New York, he now faced “a new challenge — to care more deeply, to be more present with the people we love.”