Have you ever met someone who’s energy and positivity is so strong that it gives you the goosebumps? Meet Juan from Valencia, Spain. He is one of those people for me. We met at the gorgeous Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua where Juan was volunteering within the community. Instead of running in the opposite direction of our group of crazy girls, he embraced us and joined us as we moved on to Isla de Ometepe and San Juan del Sur. As we got to know Juan and his story, we all quickly realized that he comes from a rare breed.
Over the past 10 years, Juan had his stomach, colon, rectum, and gallbladder removed in efforts to stop the spreading of a rare cancer. On November 15th, Juan and Chema, a photographer and friend of Juan, embarked on a 7000 kilometer bicycle trip from Granada, Nicaragua to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost tip of Argentina, nicknamed “The End of the World”. During this journey, he is raising money for cancer awareness on his blog, Runnife, Running for Life.
In this touching video titled (with English translation), “What Would You Do If Nothing Could Stop You?” by Chema, he explains that he heard about Juan’s project and quickly decided without a doubt that he would be joining in on the trip. It’s in Spanish, and it makes me cry every time I watch it.
Almost every time I read an update or watch a video that Juan and Chema post, I am moved to tears. Here’s a video explaining their route (again it’s in Spanish, but it’s great):
What made you decide to embark on this bicycle trip from Nicaragua to Argentina?
Let’s see. My dad had colon cancer, my grandmother died because of it as did my uncles so the doctors realized it was genetic. Doctors started running tests on me and they figured out I had my dad’s gene and cancer was running in the family. It started when I was 13 or 14 years old and when I was 19, I decided to have surgery as the cancer was going to appear at any time.
They removed my large intestine and the rectum, but with this gene, cancer appears along the digestive system so I have to keep having tests run. In one of the tests in December 2011, cancer was was found in the stomach, colon, and rectum, so I decided to get rid of it to prevent more damage. They were massive surgeries and I was so close to dying; there were problems with post-surgeries every single time. Apparently it wasn’t my time to die but actually my time to feel alive with those second life chances!
I’ve been through those big surgeries during the last 10 years. After losing my large intestine, rectum, stomach and gallbladder, I felt I had a second chance to live life to the fullest. As a nurse, I’ve seen patients who didn’t have the will to live, trying to have the most pleasant life they could have because of their illnesses. I didn’t want this for myself as a patient. I had the opportunity to get a set mind and my body was getting fit piece by piece. I started running a year and a half ago and in the UK, I was told that I should run for charity. This is not very common in Spain. I thought it was a great idea, so I started running. It started with trail races of half marathons, then a 32K running up and down in Yorkshire (Dales Trail Series), and Total Warrior. The exercise was great to clear my mind! I was going to volunteer in Central America and also run for charity as well when my big brother in the UK, Stef, owner of Cycopath Cycles asked me the question, “Why do you only run if you want to do something big and inspire people? Why not doing something crazy?” So, here I am, I’m in Costa Rica now, answering you on my way to Ushuaia. “The End of the World”. The beginning of everything for me.
What do you hope to accomplish at the end of this trip?
I would love that if at the end of this trip, I’ve touched lots of different souls, daily, and personally like locals or through other networks. It is impossible to change the world itself; but, what about if I change my world so everybody can change theirs? I probably will have the chance to leave behind something beautiful. Also, I want to collect money for cancer research as it is so important to invest in research to try to defeat it, or at least, give it a try! And of course: beating and beasting my own limits every day! With my health conditions, it’s something I’m not meant to be doing! I’m enjoying myself so you can realize how happy I am so you’ll be happy as well.
What are 3 things you absolutely had to pack with you for this trip?
1) Food, 2) ebook and, 3) laptop/smartphone. First of all: food as my stomach has different needs (I can’t eat fruit or vegetables!) I need the ebook as I love reading to relax myself and learn things apart from the daily and I cannot carry lots of books on this trip. The laptop/smartphone so can share all my experiences with you all. My smiles, sufferings, thoughts, everything. Here comes the Into the Wild quote, “Happiness is meant to be shared!”
What are some of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome before or during this cycling trip?
We’ve been riding for only 3 days so far and I’d love you to interview me again in a few months wherever I am. Join us! Before this trip, I’d been recovering from my stomach surgery. I had big problems and I lost the will to keep eating as everything hurt to digest. I had so much great help from my friends who pushed me to get better and also my nutritionist; she did a great job of changing the way I look at food. No more being scared of it, just make eating something fun and nice! It worked!
What is the next place you want to travel to after Central and South America?
After Ushuaia, I’ll back home to Spain for sure to get some love from friends and people. I’d love to have you all there in Spain for when I’m back; but who knows, actually! Time to think about the next adventure but for sure I’ll return to Spain to rest for a month or so. If you’re asking for the next adventure, I’ve got an incredible list of stupid races to run and activities outdoors like climbing Mont Blanc, Mount Fuji, running the Camino de Santiago in Spain, running in Trondheim in Norway, Mt Marathon trail race, etc. I want to do all of them as a part of Runnife’s project. Running for Life, the project of my life that I want to use to encourage people worldwide! I want to share happiness and smiles. Dancing and runs!
What advice to you have for others on big cycling trips?
Eat, sleep and always maintain elevated salt levels. By sweating, massive amounts of electrolytes are lost and anybody can faint! So listen to your body and do not wait until you’re thirsty or hungry. Also, what I told you once, “Your body is capable of some impressive shit. Admire it. Challenge it.”
(So true, Juan did tell me this as I was struggling while cycling up the hills).
What keeps you motivated on the road?
The next hill! The next challenge! The next landscape! Can you imagine yourself waking up every single day in a different and new place? What else do I need to keep me motivated? This is the adventure of my life!
One of the greatest things pushing me is what a family from Chile told me: their daughter has leukemia and they wanted me to meet her. They think my energy is great for her. If anybody can find a bigger motivation, please, tell me!
Do you see yourself working in cancer awareness in the future after this trip?
Definitely. That’s Runnife’s thing. Conferences, races, challenges, events, anything I can find out to encourage and inspire people. And not just to run but to encourage scientists and institutions as well. This is one of my big goals.
You and I cycled around Ometepe and as you know, it was very difficult for me. What’s the most physically challenging thing you’ve ever done?
You did great! We shared an incredible experience and it was the first time for me to encourage someone directly on our way to the sunset! It was amazing to see your smile and eyes happy! I’m glad we did it because after this I was sure that I could really inspire people.
The most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done was the 32K Dale Trail Series. It was so excited to challenge myself as I hadn’t run more than 21K in the mountains and it was a 32K so I had to defy my mind the whole way after the 22nd kilometer. I was thinking of giving in during the 3rd part of the race, but suddenly I achieved my goal! I started crying when I was crossing the finish line. Nobody understood it but they hugged me and when I told them about my backstory and challenges, they were so glad to share the experience! If I could do it again, I would for sure!
You’re one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. Who inspires you?
Thanks! I’ll never get used to being told this (which is good I think!) Who inspires me is a good question. Every single mother who has to figure out how to feed her kids, every person who has to move from their home country because war or disgrace while they keep smiling, my friends Victor and Jesus running those stupid ultra trails that I want to run! I get my inspiration from everywhere. I’m so happy to get inspiration from everywhere.
Juan’s words constantly bring warmth to my heart. I don’t hope his story brightened your day, I know it did. His happiness is contagious.
I’ve met some incredible people while traveling. Take a look at some more Stories from the Road.