In September of 2010, Rivas entered his first race — the Unity 5k in downtown Calhoun. “I had no training and I gave it all I could but it was obvious that I needed to get in better shape,” he recalled.
“I saw Gregg (Ellis) at the race and he was so fast, so fit and so much older than me! He was my first friend and such a good runner. With is help I knew I could be too.”
By January of 2011 Rivas began training. He now averages between 50 and 70 miles per week.
“I am the manager at El Nopal and I don’t get a lot of time off. They have been very supportive. I began running on my lunch break around town from 2 to 4 every day. I was still drinking at this point but I realized that when you want to do something well you have to give 100 percent.”
Rivas stopped drinking and devoted his training to watching YouTube videos on running, running every day and training with local ultra marathoner, Gregg Ellis.
“I wanted to feel that elation of being first behind the motorcycle,” Rivas said.
Ellis offered to train with Rivas and they began running long runs on Mondays.
“We run Fort Mountain every Monday. The first time we went up, over and back, he stayed with me the whole time. I said, ‘now Pepe, you’re going to feel bad tomorrow and probably won’t be up to much.’ But of course the next day I saw him running around town on his lunch break. He is amazing,” said Ellis.
Ellis explained that for their Fort Mountain Mondays isn’t just running up one side of the mountain but both. “Fort Mountain training is 26.2 miles. Pepe never misses a Monday. Everyone says that me and Pepe are the first to run up and down both sides, no one else has ever done it,” said Ellis.
Ellis and Rivas began training for an ultra race in which Ellis had finished second overall the year before; the Long Cane 55-miler in Abbeville, SC.
“The race was in May and Pepe did awesome; outstanding 12 hours and 49 minutes for 55 miles,” said Ellis.
“I’m extremely proud of Pepe. He’s come a long way in a little over a year. He tells me all the time that he appreciates me and that I’ve helped him but he’s done the same for me. We inspire each other and I think that’s pretty neat,” said Ellis.
“I wanted to finish for my family, for my wife Rebecca and for Gregg,” Rivas added. “When you see others struggling, it stays with you, in your mind , discouraging you, making you think you can’t do it, but if you focus on what you are training for and the people that believe in you, you can and will do what you’ve set out to do. Don’t make excuses for what you want to do. If you want to change your life — just do it,” said Rivas.
“Rebecca, is so supportive. She is always there at every race to drive me and cheer me on.”
“I love what my husband is doing,” said his wife Rebecca. “I go to every race because I want him to know how much I appreciate what he’s done.”
The Pepe Loco of today stands out as an icon of inspiration. Around town, he is seen running with a smile on his face. Runners know him by his encouraging demeanor and the sombrero he often wears in races.
“I tell my son, who lives in Vera Cruz, ‘Do your best. Running has changed my life and my family’s life too,”Rivas said.
“My buddies back in Vera Cruz, they’re not doing so good. They don’t know the Pepe I am now or that I’ve turned away from my old life. If I was still in Mexico I’d be dead. I want them to see they can be better, healthier, happier. I want to help them change their lives as I have.”
“I’d like to influence others in the Hispanic community and at work -— to start running or doing something healthy for themselves and to have a good life. Life is good, you know?”
“Any Hispanics that want to start running, changing their lives, come to me.”
For Rivas there is no finish line. “I am 37 years old and I would like to qualify for the Boston Marathon. My dream is to run and keep going. New York, Chicago — I love the challenge.”
Presently Rivas is hoping to find a charity that he can run marathons for. “It would be great to find a charity. Running gives me a sense of freedom. I feel like I am soaring, flying, free. It’s such a great feeling to do this. I could never go back to the way I was.”
Since this article went to press, Rivas has joined his first charity running team, Cellmates on the Run.
“Friends and Family I have signed up to run in the October 7th 2012 Chicago Marathon I will be running for to raise money to support funding research to help stop Diabetes while doing what I love...running,” said Rivas. “I will need to raise $1000 in donations before being allowed to run. As most of you know I recently lost my mother-in-law Glenda Quarles on June 13 of this year due to diabetes. My wife and father-in-law also suffer from diabetes. It is for them and the memory of Glenda that I have chosen to run with this charity team. If anyone would like to help support me in this cause please contact me or my wife Rebecca Quarles Rivas through Facebook or drop by El Nopal Mexican Restaurant in Calhoun, Ga. or check out the Cellmates On The Run page below. Any and all support will be greatly appreciated! Thanks!”
Visit http://www.chicagomarathon.com/CMS400Min/Chicago_Marathon/giving_back/index.aspx?id=12149 or