JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – A spinal injury nearly left Luis Martinez paralyzed 20 years ago. But after two surgeries, the Juarez resident took to walking for rehabilitation. One painful step at a time, the walking turned to jogging and eventually long-distance running.
Then came the fateful morning of Aug. 3, 2019, when driving past Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso on his way back to Juarez, the then 48-year-old engineer heard police sirens and pandemonium.
“I thought it was a robbery. But when I got to my parents’ home and turned on the TV, it was indescribable,” Martinez said of the images of witnesses crying and ambulances taking away the bodies. “El Paso and Juarez are a single community, a family. So, you feel the pain, the anguish even if your relatives weren’t involved.”
Martinez went to the makeshift memorial behind the Walmart near Cielo Vista Mall the day after a gunman allegedly motivated by racial hatred mortally wounded 23 people and injured 23 others. He recalls grimacing in pain when confronted with people’s offerings at the site of the tragedy. That’s when he decided to honor their memory by running.
Martinez took off from his neighborhood near the Zaragoza bridge to the El Paso Walmart alone in August 2019. The next year he was joined by some of his friends in Juarez and another group once he crossed the U.S. border. On Sunday morning, Martinez and runners from Juarez, El Paso, Canada, Spain, Argentina and Mexico will set off on a 23-mile binational run to honor the victims.
“It’s one mile for each victim. It’s not about (the runners), it’s about the victims and their families. I know it’s inevitable that they will remember the pain on (the anniversary), but we’re running for their bravery. Some died in a heroic manner protecting their loved ones. That’s what we want people to remember,” Martinez said.
The runners plan to broadcast highlights of the race on social media under the hashtags #ichallengeyou, #TeReto and #JuarezFuerte this Sunday beginning at 6 a.m. They expect to reach South-Central El Paso between 8:45-9 a.m. and be at the Walmart memorial around 11.
“We hope the public can join us either in Juarez or El Paso or just show support sounding off their car horns,” he said.
Martinez said running still brings him pain, especially in long-distance races. He has run 50- and 100-mile ultramarathons to call attention to social causes, such as the poverty and hunger in indigenous regions of Mexico.
“I have run those in Texas and California. We’ve gone from Colorado to the (Western Sierra Madre) Tarahumara mountains. Once we went the length of the Mexican border from Tijuana to Tamaulipas,” he said. Photos from those races can be found on his Facebook wall. “When you feel the pain with each step you reach deep inside yourself, you ask why you’re doing this. […] When you’re running to help others or bring attention to a worthy cause, you find strength.”