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Every weekday as early as 4:30 a.m., Jesse Garcia wakes to the beeping of his alarm, slips on running shoes, and logs some miles before going into work at Southwest Independent School District.
He wears his running clothes underneath his business attire. When the work day ends, Southwest ISD’s executive director of community partnerships removes his professional ensemble – à la Superman – and is again in athletic clothing. He heads out the door and tracks another run.
On weekends, Garcia runs three times a day. This schedule ruled Garcia’s life for the last 11 years.
Since 2008, the Southside native ran 20 days on, one day off, to accomplish what most would consider an outlandish goal: running the equivalent of the Earth’s circumference, or 24,901 miles.
After surviving dog bites and car swipes and wearing out 62 pairs of shoes, Garcia achieved his milestone on Aug. 10. As he pursued his goal, Garcia estimates he ran about 14 miles every 24 hours.
A runner in college, Garcia earned a scholarship on the Incarnate Word College cross country team. After graduation, Garcia began substitute teaching in South San Antonio ISD. He got out of the habit of running and out of shape.
In 2008, dissatisfied with his health, Garcia decided to get back into his college routine. As the pounds came off, Garcia found it easier to run longer distances. After a few years running, he surpassed 5,000 miles and began searching for a more ambitious target.
Idalia Garcia wasn’t surprised that her husband was searching for a grander goal. He’s always been a goal-oriented person.
“With him, goals have to be long-term because his short-term goals were 5K, 10K, marathon,” Idalia said. “He’s like ok, on to something bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Garcia’s son Marcus, 17, remembers the beginning of his dad’s running obsession. His dad used the Nike Run Club phone application to track his miles. The app’s background color changes based on how many miles a runner logs. Garcia became obsessed with making it to the highest color, Nike volt green.
“Volt was the ultimate color,” Marcus said.
It wasn’t until Garcia hit 7,000 miles that his kids came up with the idea of running the Earth’s circumference. The distance, it turned out, was not the most challenging aspect of the endeavor.
“It was daunting, it was intimidating, even scary at times when you are running at 5 in the morning, and it is still pitch black,” Garcia said. “I got hit by a couple of cars, bounced off a couple hoods … got tackled by a giant Rottweiler who gnawed on my leg for a little while.”
Still, Garcia persisted. He would change his route or rest his legs, but rarely would he skip a run. Back surgery sidelined him for a six-week period four years ago. He walked instead, still determined to log miles.
To catch up, Garcia planned an epic one-day, 50-mile run across San Antonio. He started his journey at his home on the Southeast Side and ran north toward the Alamodome. Friends joined him throughout the day to bring food or help him switch out shoes.
Garcia zigzagged across the city, going from the East Side to the West Side and back again. He rounded back toward his house around mile 40 for dinner and then kept going. Close to 14 hours after he started, Garcia stopped after 55 miles – more than two marathons worth of running.
The early mornings, strained muscles, and all those pairs of shoes became worth it when Garcia logged his last miles.
He saved the final mile to run with friends and family. About 70 family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors joined him in celebrating the accomplishment with a run followed by a celebratory barbecue.
Former City Councilman Rey Saldaña was one of the 70, donning a special shirt with a lotería card image of a runner.
“It really spoke to the support of the San Antonio community and the Latino community,” Saldaña said of the last run. “When anybody sets a goal that is shooting for something as long-term as this one, the support within the Latino community and the San Antonio community is overwhelming.”
Garcia expressed immense gratitude for those who ran with him along the way or cheered him on.
He grew up attending South San ISD schools, moved to the South East side with his family, and has worked in Southwest ISD for the past 12 years. It’s the community forged on San Antonio’s South Side that he points to as a reason for his success and the reason he wanted to make his goals a community effort and celebration.
“There’s an essence, and I don’t know how exactly to describe it, but it’s a sense of togetherness in community on the South Side,” Idalia Garcia said. “I think because you’re born with it, you keep searching for it. Somehow, you crave it, and you look for it and if you can’t find it, you create it. And I think that’s what Jesse has done.”
Garcia’s son Marcus knew that as soon as his dad crossed the finish line, he was probably already thinking of his next goal. And he was right.
Scrawled on his office whiteboard, next to posters bearing inspirational phrases and photos from the hundreds of races Garcia has competed in, is the number 238,908. That’s the number of miles between Earth and the moon.
Garcia is figuring out how to make that goal happen, but he wants it to be a community effort.
If 50 people join the effort and run 1,000 miles a year, it will only take five years to get to the moon, Garcia said with a smile.