NEW YORK — Edison Pena outran destiny.
Racing 26.2 miles seems like nothing after that.
So the Chilean miner who jogged through the tunnels while trapped underground didn’t want to just watch from the sidelines at the New York City Marathon. He plans to run — and to finish.
“What I thought about as I ran in the mine was that I was going to beat destiny,” Pena said through a translator at a packed news conference Thursday, hours after flying into New York. “I was going to turn the tables on destiny. I was saying to that mine, ‘I can outrun you. I’m going to run until you’re just tired and bored of me.’
“And I did it.”
Pena got off the plane Thursday morning and immediately recognized the man who had come to greet him: marathon world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie. As somebody described their meeting later, Pena chimed in, in English, “It’s incredible.”
Dapper in a dark suit, the 34-year-old Pena charmed the more than 100 media members who gathered to hear his story. He even sang a few lines of “Return to Sender” by his beloved Elvis Presley, whose music helped him through those daily runs of 6-7 miles in the mine.
Bad knee and all, he predicts it will take 6 hours to finish Sunday.
“I’d like the gentlemen and ladies of the press to kindly promise that you’re not going to rip me apart in your stories if I can’t stand the pain in my knee,” Pena said, his humor undoubtedly intact after 69 days trapped nearly a half-mile underground. “So, you know, show me some mercy, guys.”
When the 33 miners’ rescue captivated the world last month, NYC Marathon officials heard about Pena’s subterranean training runs.
“We know running as a light. We know running as a salvation. We know running as an anchor, and we felt a little bit better when we learned that one of the miners had that force of running with him while in the darkness,” New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg said. “So, immediately, we said, ‘We want to celebrate this man.'”
They planned to invite him as an honored guest — to hold the finish line tape, to maybe ride the course in a warm car.
“To be honest, it didn’t even strike us that he might want to run,” Wittenberg said. “But when we heard last week that Edison wanted to come and he wanted to run, in so many ways it wasn’t a surprise.”
Pena has kept running since the rescue — including 6½ miles as part of a triathlon team event in Chile on Oct. 24. He said he hadn’t done a race in years but he’d long been an avid amateur runner. He just never had the means to travel to compete in a storied event like the NYC Marathon.
Once rescuers made contact with the miners and sent down food, Pena started his runs. He cut down his steel-tipped electrician’s boots to ankle-high shoes.
Pena mimed sweat dripping down his face as he recalled braving the heat and humidity to traverse the 1,000-yard path with his miner’s lamp lighting the way.
“I was running to show that I wasn’t just waiting around,” he said. “I was running to be an active participant in my own salvation. I wasn’t just waiting around. I was running because I was also contributing to the struggle for our rescue.
“I also wanted God to see that I really wanted to live.”
He emerged to a very different life. Pena was scheduled to appear on the “Late Show with David Letterman” later Thursday.
He’s accepted an invitation to visit Graceland in January for a private tour. After that, Pena will be flown to Las Vegas to watch “Viva Elvis,” the Cirque du Soleil show based on Presley’s music.
Other than his foot bouncing nervously on his chair, Pena looked utterly comfortable in front of all the cameras as he answered the stream of questions asked in English and Spanish. He gestured in awe at the height difference between him and former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer, who is running the marathon for charity and presented him with watches from his sponsor, Timex.
Pena, the 12th man rescued, had been one of the most outspoken of the miners, insisting Chile’s mineral riches shouldn’t come at the expense of working people ordered into mines known to be unsafe. On Thursday, he focused on his experience of running in the mine and the positives of his trip to New York.
Joining Pena and his wife on their flight were many other Chileans who had long ago signed up to run the NYC Marathon. Pena was stunned the professional athletes would even talk to an amateur like him.
His countryman from that flight and another from the country into John F. Kennedy International Airport lined up to cheer him as he disembarked from the plane.
Pena was welcomed to New York by Gebrselassie and 2004 New York champion Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa. Like Pena, Gebrselassie is running his first NYC Marathon.
The Ethiopian star had watched the coverage of the miners’ rescue as so many others did. Gebrselassie, who also flew in Thursday morning, said he wanted to invite Pena to come run in a race in Ethiopia.
“People say that we’re heroes, but I don’t think we are,” Pena said. “It’s just what destiny had in store for us.”