‘A superhuman feat of endurance’: Man with cerebral palsy finishes Barcelona marathon

Mr Alex Roca, 32, crosses the finish line at the 2023 Barcelona marathon. He ran 42km in 5 hours, 50 minutes and 51 seconds. For a man his age, the average completion time is 4 hours and 10 minutes. PHOTO: ALEX ROCA/INSTAGRAM

His marathon time was 5:50:51, but it was never about the time. It was all about finishing the race.

Mr Alex Roca – a 32-year-old Spaniard whose body has been affected by cerebral palsy since he was six months old – completed the Barcelona marathon this week in what the media has lauded as a superhuman feat of endurance and determination.

He ran 42.195km in 5 hours, 50 minutes and 51 seconds on Sunday. For a man his age, the average completion time is 4 hours and 10 minutes.

But being “average” was not the point.

Even before he could walk, Mr Roca had always been falling behind, always trying to catch up.

Yet, he also would – always against all odds, and never mind the time – cross the finish line. That was all that mattered.

“The limit is up to you, and if you want to achieve an objective, whatever difficulties you have, with attitude, willpower, perseverance and resilience, you can achieve everything you propose,” he told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. 

“And if you do not achieve it,” he added, “you would have given everything and must feel gratified.”

At six months old, Mr Roca had herpetic viral encephalitis that resulted in 76 per cent of the left side of his body stricken with cerebral palsy.

He has since been having impaired movement and exaggerated reflexes. The range of motion of various joints of his body is limited due to muscle stiffness. He communicates through sign language.

Yet, to prepare for the Barcelona marathon, he managed to run seven half-marathons.

Earlier in 2023, he ran the Granollers half-marathon, finishing in 2 hours, 45 minutes and 16 seconds. A month later, on Feb 19, he completed the Barcelona half-marathon in a personal best time of 2 hours, 38 minutes and 28 seconds.

He also took part in five triathlons and one aquathlon.

Mr Roca is currently an ambassador for the FC Barcelona Foundation and is the only Nike-sponsored athlete with cerebral palsy.

“I am passionate about challenges and love trying new sports... With my example, I want to show people that limits are set by us individually,” Mr Roca said in an article that ran on the website of tennis equipment maker Wilson.

Mr Roca is also an ambassador for Wilson.

Mr Roca, the company said, represents the principle that in any sport, “everyone, regardless of their gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or ability, deserves equal treatment, opportunities, and to feel included”.

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