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Walter Barrera: Running Towards Finding Ourselves


Changing the world is changing the way we inhabit it. For this young Salvadorian man, changing it depends on running long distances.

A young Salvadorian man arrives to the United States with his family in 1994 to meet his father, who had illegally entered the country in 1986. He does not adapt, leaves his parents’ home and begins using drugs —cocaine and crack to be precise. He becomes homeless for some time and steals to quench his dependence. He faces a daily and yet terrible situation for Latino immigrants trying to live the American Dream: dispossession. In 2009, he is included in a rehab program in which he is encouraged to run. Yes, to run. As if in this manner Walter Barrera could get away from himself, or at least from the Walter Barrera who used cocaine and was bordering on the abyss. Running to stay away from the past but not to escape it. Instead, running to get closer to a new life.

His life (his body) gives an enormous qualitative jump. Few are able to successfully rehabilitate, and fewer yet become athletes, which is basically the antipodal of the drug user. Walter Barrera, however, began with a 5km race. After this first experience he stated: “Everything feels perfect. Everything feels good”. Perhaps it comes down to that: finding a harmless replacement that will spread the same pleasurable or relieving sensation as drugs do. He ran to change his relationship with himself: to be Walter Barrera and not Walter Barrera under the dreary filter of crack.

Walter Barrera

In What I talk About When I Talk About Running, the author Haruki Murakami equates the discipline needed to prepare for a marathon to that needed to write a novel —a few pages a day, a few extra kilometres in the morning. Barrera followed the same course: Each day he ran a little bit more, a little bit further. The first week he siad he couldn’t run to the corner without being drenched in sweat, breathless. Now Barrera, a Northeast Washington resident, does not settle for merely running.

After running 50-mile (roughly 80km) marathons, he began to prepare for greater challenges. He is preparing, maybe while you read this, to run a 100 mile marathon. To do this, the young marathoner follows a strict training routine where he must run at least 73 miles a week, although this past March he ran 126 miles, which enabled him to secure his place in the Colorado Marathon. This way he will inhabit his new life.

Despite the terrible events in the Boston marathon —which led to a new state of security alert and which awoke some ancient fears in the collective unconscious— that left a sombre print in the history of sports, Walter Barrera reminds us that our journey is full of obstacles, and that those obstacles will be there waiting for us when we are ready to confront them. The finish line is merely an illusion: beyond it, another finish line awaits, always a step in front of us. There will always be another finish line left to cross.

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