This disabled athlete makes history by running a record-breaking marathon

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After training for several years, Alex Roca has fulfilled a lifelong dream of completing the Barcelona Marathon. (PHOTO: Instagram / @alexroca91)
After training for several years, Alex Roca has fulfilled a lifelong dream of completing the Barcelona Marathon. (PHOTO: Instagram / @alexroca91)

When he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, his doctors didn’t expect him to survive.

But three decades on, Alex Roca Campillo has defied the odds to become the first person in the world with a 76% disability to complete a marathon. 

The Spanish runner recently finished the 42km Barcelona Marathon in a time of 5 hours, 50 minutes and 51 seconds.

“This has been possible thanks to my team. Thanks to all of you who have been cheering, I have no words . . .” Alex (32) wrote on social media after achieving his lifelong goal. 

Before the race, he told Spanish news outlet El Mundo that he wanted to send a message to the world. 

“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. And if you don't achieve it, you will have given everything and must feel gratified." 

Alex, who has limited mobility as a result of his condition, was accompanied during the race by his brother Victor and interpreter Valenti Sanjuan, both of whom have been by his side throughout his training over the years.  

The runner, who comes from Spain's Catalonia region, contracted herpetic viral encephalitis, a rare neurological disorder characterised by inflammation of the brain, when he was just six months old. The disorder gave him cerebral palsy that left him with a physical disability that affected 76% of the left side of his body. 

The condition has made movement difficult for Alex and has reduced the range of motion in his joints. He also has to communicate via sign language. But he's refused to allow his disability to stop him from pursuing his dreams. 

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“I'm passionate about challenges and love trying new sports: running, cycling, and now, padel (tennis),” he said in an interview. “With my example, I want to show people that we set our own limits as individuals.” 

Alex, who works with global sports brand Nike and is an ambassador for soccer club FC Barcelona, has five triathlons under his belt and has also completed five half-marathons over the years in Barcelona, Granollers, New York and Miami respectively. 

'I think of the marathon as the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced'
- Alex Roca

In 2019, he became the first person living with cerebral palsy to complete the Titan Desert race  a six-day, multi-stage mountain bike race through the Moroccan desert between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert.

But while he loves cycling in the Spanish hillside and competing in adventure races, running brings him the most joy “because it’s the most natural connection between mind and body”, he told fitness site Strava. 

Alex with his wife, Mari Carmen Maza, after he com
Alex with his wife, Mari Carmen Maza, after he competed in the Titan Desert 2019 mountain biking race in Morocco. (PHOTO: Gallo Images / Getty Images)

To reach his goal of completing the Barcelona Marathon, Alex worked closely with a coach, a physical trainer and a psychologist, and has been supported by his wife, Mari Carmen Maza, who also interprets for him.

"Anyone who has a goal, with sacrifice, attitude and teamwork can achieve it,” Alex told El Mundo. “I decided to run the Barcelona Marathon so that people who feel afraid or who don't see themselves as capable of achieving this goal will see me cross the finish line of a marathon and say to themselves: 'I can do it too'.” 


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