NEW YORK, November 5 – Being trapped underground didn't stop Chilean mining hero Edison Pena from running and a bad knee won't stop him either when he tries to complete the New York Marathon this Sunday."I never thought I would make it to this marathon," Pena told a packed press conference after arriving in New York ahead of the big race. "I wanted to show that yes, you can."
Pena’s determination to keep jogging in his boots and in sweltering temperatures, while trapped for 69 days at the bottom of a Chilean mine, must make for the most unusual training preparations in the history of the race.
But the man who cheated death and who lives for running begged not to be criticized if he can’t make it.
"I have an injured knee from down there (in the mine), but I hope I will be able to finish," the 34-year-old said. "I hope the press will not destroy me if I can’t stand the pain in the knee."
Press criticism is about the last thing Pena is likely to hear along those 26.2 miles ending in Manhattan’s Central Park.
The humble Elvis fan — he even entertained journalists Thursday with an impromptu rendition of the hit "Return to Sender" — is rapidly turning into a media sensation.
On arrival in New York he was met at the airport by Ethiopian long-distance running legend Haile Gebrselassie. Later Thursday he was due to appear on the David Letterman chat show and on Sunday he will likely be a crowd favorite.
Marathon organizers invited Pena after hearing his inspiring story of running up and down tunnels while waiting, along with 32 other trapped miners, to be rescued.
They thought that after the traumatic experience he might just want to perform a ceremonial service, such as holding the finish line tape.
But "he absolutely, 100 percent wants to participate," New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg said Monday. "I cannot wait to meet this man."
Pena said his race goal is to complete within six hours, but more widely he wants to show others the power of determination.
"I could have come just to watch, but I decided to take part, to feel the emotion," he said. "I have a strong desire to motivate the others. This is the most important thing for me."
Whatever happens, Pena’s race on Sunday will not match the stakes of his solo, underground efforts, where running in his heavy miner’s boots literally helped him keep the will to live.
"I was showing that I wasn’t just waiting for them to come and fetch us. To run meant to fight," he said.
Pena’s post-mine-drama life is also going to include a visit to Elvis’ famously tacky home, Graceland.
But what’s next for the man that fellow trapped miners nicknamed "the runner?" Nothing easy, that’s for sure.
"After this, hopefully I can dedicate myself to running and to cycling," he said.