While honeymooning in Peru, Roberto’s next venture in life revealed itself. It seems appropriate for the couple who first connected online because of their love for running, spent five days of their honeymoon running along the Inca Trail.
The experience of being on top of the Andes, close to the skies, running through ancient ruins, surrounded by amazing natural beauty and culture gave him the sensation of fulfillment that compelled him want to share the experience with other runners. His entrepreneurial spirit collided with his passion for distance running and adventure. In 2003, Roberto founded Inca Runners (www.incarunners.com), an organization providing adventure running trips and ultra marathon training trips in from Cusco, Peru.
Connecting the dots from distance running to cross country skiing for a north westerner seems a natural fit. But not for Peruvian, Roberto, the idea of snow skiing was unimaginable and, if not for the persistence of his wife, the idea of an Olympic bid would never have surfaced. In this clip, Roberto shares his early thoughts of skiing; a surprising correlation to cross country skiing and surfing that sparked an instantaneous passion for the sport and the formation of his next dream, qualifying for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Roberto was a one man show…the athlete, coach, trainer, equipment manager, PR representative, etc. With the support of family, his community and a few sponsors he was spent two years training for and traveling to qualifying races around the globe. It was daunting. He would arrive at races with his few pairs of skis, attend mandatory informational meetings (this was down time for most competitors whose coach would attend), ski test runs to assess the conditions (most athletes had team testers), wax and prepare the skis based on the conditions and then finally compete. Not only was he concerned about racing fast enough to meet the qualifying times, he worried that he would not get in the way of the fastest skiers in the world. “It was very intimidating. You don’t want to be the one that makes them crash and hear, ‘Ah that Peruvian guy just took the world champ out of the contest.’” I think many would cower and walk away from the mountain fearing failure or not being as good as the other competitors. Roberto did the opposite. He looked at each race or experience as an opportunity meet people who he could learn from or provide connections to propel him forward in his Olympic quest. “I wasn’t the only one from a “non-skiing” country. There was a Kenyan, a Venezuelan and many others. It was good learning. I got to meet them and they were amazing people. We still keep in touch.” “And during the training days, sometimes I would find myself behind the entire Norway team, it was a bit surreal. It was like a dream coming true, to be in the same arena as some of your heroes.”
Early December of 2009, in the midst of training and his last push towards qualifying, Roberto received a devastating phone call from his mother with news that she had advanced stage cancer. “I took a couple days off, I couldn’t even train with the idea of having the person who has been in your life…I mean we were close…we were so close.” A few days later, on December 12th, Roberto raced at Silver Star Resort in B.C., Canada, successfully qualifying to compete in the February Olympic Games.” Within days, he was on an unplanned trip to Peru for Christmas, “in the middle of my intense training season, just to stay with her for probably her last Christmas…I stayed for a week. The day I was to leave, she had an attack and we had to transport her to the hospital. My flight was leaving in four hours. I couldn’t cancel my flight…” Departing was agonizing for Roberto, at the pinnacle of reaching his dream, he was also at the depths of despair for his mother’s condition. She was unable to make the trip to Whistler, B.C. to see her son compete and sadly she passed away a few months following the games.
I have mentioned meeting Roberto, a Winter Olympian, to many people since I sat down with him. Everyone, just like my son, is curious to hear about his Olympic experience. His Olympic journey is inspiring and one that needs to be shared, but even more thought provoking and inspiring is what Roberto shared with me next. It is what my son talked about as we drove away from Roberto’s house. Losing his mother has been the most difficult time in Roberto’s life. “It was something I wasn’t expecting…and then one day you get woken up, I mean cancer is REAL. Trying to understand why she had such a healthy life and then cancer came and against all her will to save her life, it [her life] was just diming.” But from the most difficult time resulted his biggest life lesson, “In every action there is a good deed there. Whether it appears good or bad, there is always something good…you just need to find it. Read between the lines. If you focus on the negative and don’t understand there is something good coming from the negative, you are going to live your life in a miserable way. There are good things that came out of my mother’s passing. Our family was brought closer together. We started reflecting on the lessons she taught us and we started taking better care of ourselves. My family now watches what we eat and what may cause cancer. It was an eye opener for all of us. My mother, she showed me a different way to see life. You need to enjoy life as if this is your last day. You need to make your life to a point so when you are ready to go away you will be content about that. And you can look back and see how many lives you touched, what you did for your community…what is your legacy? As much as you can do for others is what you will be remembered by.”
Continue on to the next post to read about Roberto’s Olympic experience and what he is doing today.
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