“They could see me but they could not do much until the helicopter would get me out of there”
How much time until you were discharged?
Then, you had to wait six months to start…
Running! Well, to resume my work. I remember that for my first follow-up evaluation, I put on my active wear on purpose. I wanted the doctor to see me and say, “Oh! You look great!”, but he saw my scans and told me that I could not practice sports yet, that there was still water and that I could suffer from epileptic seizures…
Without anybody knowing, you went to the park to run after one month.
And after two months you went to Mexico to participate in a marathon.
And after three months you took part in an ultra-marathon.
That is right. But, before the ultra-marathon, I did the Wings For Life World Run, and I won!
In that running event, athletes participate for those with problems on the spinal cord.
That motivated me so I decided to pay. I did not use to participate in expensive runs, because I had no sponsors, no other support but my mom (laughs)… Besides, I knew I was not going to win. I did it to help and because I thought it was very interesting. I saw the ads and there were very young kids with multiple sclerosis, on wheelchairs, and I said to myself, “I’m running again, they won’t”. And I won! That is how Red Bull’s staff met me and supported me to go to Austria to compete.
“Their condition is different from that of people who do not run because they are lazy. Blind runners really do need somebody to run!”
That also made possible for you to meet the blind athlete Fernando Muñoz. How did it happen?
A call to become guide was announced because blind people were going to participate in a run and, even though I was not as fast as before because I was still recovering, I wanted to help. They knew my story, so I was welcomed.
Why did you want to help?
Because they need somebody to run. They cannot run by themselves. They cannot see! Their condition is different from that of people who do not run because they are lazy or whatever. They really do need somebody to run!
They want to run, but they cannot do it without somebody by their side.
Some many people can run but give excuses not to. Fernando can even skip breakfast or train with any kind of shoes, as long as he gets to run. He gives no excuse. We have trained when it is cold or on the sand when it is hot. I love his initiative, his willingness.
Did you choose him?
You know what, after the accident, every piece of my life fits as if in a puzzle. I went there to help, and there were kids and adults of all ages. “Who will I be running with?”, I thought. As I was the youngest, I was assigned the youngest. Thank God it was him! He had quite a story too. He is orphan of father, was born in Cajamarca and lived in a shelter. He was the one! We started training, and our first photo crossing the finish line is amazing. It was his first run. His face, his gestures, it is amazing! I have that picture in my bedroom.
Those who run, they do it as if they were in their own world. But in Fernando’s case, he depends on someone else. How do you communicate?
It is hard. As you say, in a competence, you focus, you get into your own thoughts, you know when to run faster, but with Fernando I have to block everything… everything! And focus on him. I always demand more of him. Sometimes I even raise my voice, I tell him all kind of things, but, at the end, he thanks me. As I am popular in this environment and some people greet me and want pictures with me, he says, “Wow, I have a famous girl next to me”.
Fernando cannot see the finish line. How do you let him know it is near?
He always says, “Rocío, I cannot continue”. “Shut up, Fernando. Yes, you can, we are almost there”. In the first 10-km run in which we participated, he wanted to quit on the 8th kilometre. I yelled at him and told him that I would take him to the finish line even if I had to drag him. When you are getting there, people gives an ovation. I know it is not for me, because my T-shirt says “Guide” and they see the shoelace, so they know he is blind and give him the ovation… That encourages him to keep going. “Come on, champion, you can do it!” With that, the last kilometre or 500 metres are easy.
Was the first finish line with him one of the best moments of your life?
Of course! It was exciting!
In that moment, you did not think of yourself, but of someone else.
When something is good, you want to share it. I know what he felt, because I know how it feels to cross the finish line and win…
“Our first photo crossing the finish line is amazing. It was his first run. His face, his gestures, it was amazing!”
Did you participate in the New York City Marathon?
I did not. We could not obtain the budget.
It must have been frustrating.
Very, especially for him, because I can go from door to door by myself to ask for help, but he cannot… Some months before the marathon, we were told there was no budget for him. Believe me, I went from door to door, but nobody wanted to take the risk, because he did not belong to the Federation, because he is not popular…
Since you had the accident, you have participated in three 100-km ultra-marathons here.
Three of 100 km, three of 53 km and one of 80 km. I was always among the first.
Did you talk to your doctor again?
He sent me a friend request on Facebook (laughs)… He recommended me not to go to Mexico (to the marathon she ran two months after she was discharged) and he found out that I did go because I got him a souvenir. “Rocío, what can I tell you! No patient who has been operated in the head is asked to run a marathon, and you’ve done it. What else can I do? You’re healthy”. He understood I needed to do it.
What about your parents?
They suffered a lot with my accident. My mom is very sensitive. In the nine hours my operation lasted, she had tachycardia, but now when I come back home all dirty, they see me and I see happiness in them.
So having a near-death experience ended up giving you more reasons to live.
Definitely. It taught me not to waste time, to seize the day. It made me get to know these blind kids who train no matter what. That makes me think that I have to enjoy my health!
Before the accident, you had no sponsors, and now you have many.
They contacted me after the accident because I was brave and did not give up, then I started running again and won my first competence, and represented Peru. From that moment on, they started paying more attention. I was not just another girl; I had been in a coma two months before. That caught people’s attention… And to think that I fell because I did not have the right shoes.