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Miami Marathon streakers revel in memories of past 14 runnings

Alexis Garcia points skyward in dedication to his deceased father, a former runner, as Garcia approaches the finish line of the 2005 Miami Marathon. On Sunday, he will run in his 15th 26.2-miler.
Alexis Garcia points skyward in dedication to his deceased father, a former runner, as Garcia approaches the finish line of the 2005 Miami Marathon. On Sunday, he will run in his 15th 26.2-miler.

The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon will celebrate its 15th running at 6 a.m. Sunday with more than 20,000 starters on Biscayne Boulevard outside the AmericanAirlines Arena. Seven runners, among 86 who have competed in every race — called streakers by the event — spoke to the Miami Herald about their favorite moments and what the race means to them.

Here are their stories:

▪ Alexis Garcia, Miami Lakes (Fourteen Miami Marathons): In 1992, Alexis Garcia spent 55 hours in a kayak in the Florida Straits fleeing Cuba, “full of dreams,” he said.

Today, the 55-year-old father of two is “accomplishing those dreams,” be it in his past 14 Miami Marathons or as a physical education teacher at Miami Lakes K-8 Center.

Garcia will run in his 15th 26.2-miler Sunday on the streets of Miami and Miami Beach. When he’s done, he will race back to run the final mile again with 100 of his students in the annual Kids Run Miami event that draws 5,000 youngsters.

“This city is so special to me,” Garcia said. “When I immigrated from Cuba, Miami opened its doors to me. Being able to run through the city is beautiful.”

Last year, Garcia returned to Cuba and ran 996 miles in his homeland, 30 miles at a time, bringing more than 300 pairs of sneakers to give to children along the route.

His favorite Miami Marathon moment came in 2004, when he crossed the finish holding hands with his son Alex and daughter Clarabel.

“I have shown my children that even though I’m not that young anymore, goals are achievable,” Garcia said.

▪ Patrick Price, Palmetto Bay (Four Miami Marathons, 10 Miami Half Marathons): Most marathoners crave water at their aid stations.

Since 2008, Patrick Price has had Guinness Beer on his mind.

That year, Price, who works for the Miami-Dade County Finance Department, was having an especially hard time during the half marathon as he approached the Gusman Theater on Flagler Street at mile 12.

“Some guy had set up his own aid station in front of Gusman,” Price, 56, said. “But he had Guinness! He set up his own little cooler and lined up six bottles of the beer on the backside of the ticket booth, right along the street.

“He told me I was the first person who had stopped, and I told him ‘I’d stop for a Guinness for any reason.’”

 
 

The man poured about half a bottle into a plastic cup, and Price “stood there and drank with him for two or three minutes’’ and then finished the race.

Price said he had no problem with sacrificing a few minutes to quench his thirst with the best aid-station refreshment he’s ever had.

“What wasn’t turning out to be a great day, ended that way.”

Price, who logs every race he has ever run, said his proudest moment — and perhaps most painful — in the Miami event came the next year in the half marathon.

At the 10K mark on Ocean Drive in the Art Deco District of Miami Beach, Price “broke the third metatarsal’’ on his left foot. “I felt it pop and tried to walk. But walking was awful, so I ran the rest of the way.”

His finish time: 1 hour 56 minutes.

He spent the next eight weeks in a walking boot, the first four of them on crutches.

“It was worth it,” Price said.

  Patrick Price 

▪ Burt Baldo, Miami (Three Miami Marathons, 11 Miami Half Marathons): Burt Baldo, 46, lives one block from the marathon course in Coconut Grove.

  Burt Baldo 

Baldo, a civil engineer who grew up in Peru and came to the United States in 1990, said his two finest marathon moments were family-related.

In 2009, his then-3-year-old son, Alexander, and Baldo’s mother, Dora, surprised him in front of CocoWalk around mile 20.

“It was a cold morning and they were all bundled up,” Baldo said. “My son held up a sign that said, ‘GO PAPI GO!!!’ It gave me energy.”

But not as much energy as in 2007, when Baldo crossed the finish line, had a medal draped over his neck and saw his wife Magdalena and 1-year-old Alexander, who handed him a homemade card with Alex’s photograph and these words: “Papi, I’m going to have a brother or sister!”

“I might have shed a tear or two,” Baldo said. “Finishing a marathon is emotional, but that was unbelievable.

“I’ll keep running this event until I can’t anymore.”

▪ Sally Molina, Miami (Fourteen Miami Half Marathons): Sally Molina considers the Miami Half Marathon — she’s run six full marathons elsewhere — “less of a race and more of a fun get-together.”

That’s because Sally, 77, has run every Miami 13.1-miler with her good friend and fellow Miamian Lois Balafas, 80.

  Sally Molina, 77, and Lois Balafas, 80 

“I met her in about 1995 at Tropical Park,” Molina said of Balafas. “We had both entered a track meet and then began going to 5Ks and 10Ks together.

“I love the Miami Marathon course. You go over the MacArthur Causeway and see all those big cruise ships lit up like Christmas trees. It’s beautiful. Sometimes you see dolphins while you’re on the Venetian Causeway. It’s a little tour of a beautiful city.”

One of Molina’s favorite parts of a past course was stopping outside the Publix on Dade Boulevard in Miami Beach at about mile 8, where a friend met them with orange juice.

“We chit-chatted for five minutes and kept going,” said Molina, whose only problem Sunday might be her new cell phone.

“I used to have a flip phone but now it’s a great big monster iPhone,” she said. “I have to figure out a way to carry it so I can keep taking pictures.”

▪ Jeff Davies, Jupiter (Three Miami Marathons, 11 Miami Half Marathons): The Miami Marathon moment Jeff Davies remembers most vividly occurred in the inaugural race of 2003, then called the Miami Tropical Marathon.

  Jeff Davies 

Davies, 54, who grew up in Liverpool, England, and owns a company in Riviera Beach that sells wood products for boat building and repairing, recalls “the moment of silence for the shuttle passengers who had lost their lives the day before.”

Davies said on Feb. 1, 2003, when the shuttle Columbia blew up as it reentered the earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members, he was outside trying to see the reentry with his brother.

Listening to the national anthem minutes before the race the next day, and then standing in silence, “was a very somber, surreal moment,” Davies said.

Despite the sadness, Davies ran his fastest Miami Marathon that year in 3 hours 51 minutes.

“Spectacular scenery,” he said. “And no matter how drunk people are coming out of the bars on South Beach, they still cheer you on.”

▪ Hope Jacobson, Palmetto Bay (Seven Miami Marathons, seven Miami Half Marathons): “Time flies, when life is running,” Hope Jacobson, 67, told Miami Marathon organizers this year. “So many miles, so many memories, so many stories.’’

  Hope Jacobson 

Jacobson, a retired Miami-Dade teacher who still substitutes and teaches in FIU’s School of Education, described the half marathon as “a cakewalk after running the first seven full Miami Marathons.”

Said Jacobson: “Doing the half feels like you’re cheating. But my body is getting older. Honestly, if I can finish in three hours I’ll be very happy.”

The night leading into the 6 a.m. race, Jacobson has a pajama party with two other participants. They wake up at 3:30 a.m. and are on the road by 4 for the start.

After she crosses the finish, Jacobson does “the pizza dance,” something her Special Olympic athletes taught her.

“You stand there and look like you’re stirring up a bowl of tomato sauce,” she said.

Jacobson returns a bit later to run the final mile again with those Special Olympians.

“Finishers,’’ she said, “are winners.”

▪ Tony Jones, Cutler Bay (Fourteen Miami Marathons): Tony Jones was cleaning his back porch last November when he slipped on bleach and suffered a compound wrist fracture — the bone coming straight through the skin.

But no way would Jones even consider breaking his Miami Marathon streak of 14 heading into his 15th on Sunday.

“My surgeon banned me from running for several weeks,” said Jones, 60, a refrigeration/air-conditioning mechanic at Zoo Miami. “I’m in survival mode this year.”

 
 

Jones, whose marathon best is 3 hours 36 minutes, said his most meaningful Miami moment occurred in 2010, when a woman was struggling to continue around mile 21.

“I jogged alongside her for a while, and said, ‘Listen, I’ve done a few of these, and it’s supposed to feel this way. It’s supposed to suck at 21 miles. I can tell by your form that you’ve put in the training.’

“She picked up her pace and said, ‘Oh, my gosh! That’s exactly what I needed to hear!’’’

Said Jones: “It made me feel great knowing I could give back to the sport I love.”

  Tony Jones, center, Connie Jones, right, daugther Kim 
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