By JAMES BURNS
RIPON – Armando Ibarra-Espinoza’s last marathon was marred by a national tragedy.
Though he finished well ahead of the bombings that turned the final paces of the Boston Marathon into a rubble of broken buildings and bodies, the act of terrorism has forever stained his memories.
He hopes his next foot race inspires hope, a string of smiles stretching from coast to coast, and awareness for a global campaign.
Ibarra-Espinoza will run the ING New York City Marathon in November for the American Cancer Society, honoring one of his life’s greatest inspirations, the late Adrian Rosas.
Rosas was 6 when he lost his fight with leukemia last spring. However, the Salida boy who loved video games and collecting snails leaves behind a legacy of fun and foolishness.
“His memory is never going to die within our family,” said brother Marc Anthony Rosas. “But when Armando told us what he wanted to do, it was amazing to us how Adrian impacted Armando. I can’t believe how many people he’s touched.”
Ibarra-Espinoza was introduced to Rosas through his older brother Roberto Rosas in 2011. They would become fast friends, in part because “Adrian would bring out the little kid in Armando,” Marc Anthony Rosas said.
“He was only 6 when he passed away, but you always hear about how he brightened up everyone’s life,” Ibarra-Espinoza said.
“He was always smiling. If there was one thing that came over and over again at his funeral and services, from the people that knew him, he always had a smile on his face.”
Rosas’ spirit carried Ibarra-Espinoza through the aches and pains of his senior track season at Humboldt State.
When it looked like a nagging injury might undercut his final few meets, Ibarra-Espinoza recalled the courage Rosas displayed in his battle with blood cancer.
“It’s wonderful life” was a mantra Ibarra-Espinoza developed and whispered to himself, drowning out the physical pain and mental agony during his 3,000-meter steeplechase and 800 runs.
Rosas passed away last spring, at the height of Ibarra-Espinoza’s track season. At one point, the emotional toll reduced Ibarra-Espinoza into a “bawling mess” during his first steeplechase event of the season, as he wrote on his blog site.
The former Modesto Junior College standout would rebound, turning the loss into a triumph.
“… The thought of Adrian kept me pushing through. That kid fought so hard for so long, always with a smile and a laugh,” he wrote on his “NY for Adrian” blog. “… The thought of quitting at any point seemed ridiculous with his example in mind. Despite the injuries, I wound up having a season more successful than I could have even dreamed of …”
Ibarra-Espinoza finished his career with all-California Collegiate Athletic Association honors in the steeplechase. His perch on the podium was reserved for two … for he and Rosas.
“It’s not just that last track season,” Ibarra-Espinoza said. “He’s been a big reminder that this world isn’t always pretty, so you might as well make the most out of it and get what you can out of yourself.”
So he’s upped the stakes.
In New York, for one of the most popular marathons in the world, Ibarra-Espinoza isn’t just pledging to run 26.2 miles. That’s part of it, of course.
He also hopes to contribute to a break-through or cure for cancers with a donation of at least $3,800 in honor of Rosas. He said he’s working with former MJC track coach Demetrius Snaer and his coaches at Humboldt on various fund-raising events.
“It’s a big, scary number … to raise $4,000 out of nowhere,” said Ibarra-Espinoza, whose lifetime best in the marathon – 2 hours, 49 minutes, 44 seconds – was achieved in Boston. “But I’ve been getting good feedback.”
Ibarra-Espinoza’s connection to the American Cancer Society was born out of a conversation at Ripon’s Relay for Life event on May 18, where Ibarra-Espinoza ran into the Rosas family.
“It was a big reminder of how inspiring he was for me,” he said.
As Ibarra-Espinoza began to build his race calendar, he discovered that the New York Marathon’s registration was open only to those championing a charity. He searched the list of charities … and searched … and searched.
“I wasn’t interested in local charities,” Ibarra-Espinoza said. “When I saw the American Cancer Society, it was like, ‘Oh.’ After being reminded of Adrian and all ways he’s motivated me, it was perfect timing.”
To contact James Burns, e-mail email@example.com.