Colorado native Marco Zuniga never lets anything stand in the way of his dream. Not anymore at least. Not money, not his work - not even a badly sprained ankle with 12 miles left in the Pikes Peak Ascent Marathon.
Grimacing with every step he took on his ballooned-up ankle, Zuniga, 41, hobbled across the line in 11th place at 4 hours, 15 minutes and 50 seconds.
By the time he grabbed his banana and a couple of those little paper cups of water Sunday morning, he was just glad that he was able to finish the race.
"My ankle just turned over right as I started coming back down the mountain. It just flipped over after I stepped wrong," said Zuniga, who was a first timer to the marathon. "I was so worried about colliding with someone on their way up the mountain while I was going down. I think I was concentrated about that so much that I forgot to look where I was stepping. Oh well though, what a great day. This, running with all these amazing people, this is what it's about."
Running in big races is a dream come true for Zuniga. Since he was young, all he wanted to do was run mile after mile with only the sound of nature, sandwiched between the cheers at the start and finish line, around him. In fact, he wanted to qualify at Olympic trials in the marathon.
Yep, Zuniga had a whole list of goals in the sport he loved before he gave it up when he was 23.
"Work and money. That's what got in the way. I was so focused about making a bunch of money that I didn't have time, so I stopped doing it," he said. "So many times we let money kill our dreams. That's unfortunate and that's exactly what I did."
For years, it was a grind for Zuniga. He started business after business, worked 70-hour weeks and wasn't truly happy. He wouldn't admit that to himself though. Not then.
No, it wasn't until two years ago, Zuniga changed his focus. He said his outlook felt like someone shook him awake.
"I was in the real estate game and you know, like everywhere, the bubble popped and a lot of people lost money. I was one of them," he said before he grinned. "It woke me up to what I was doing a little bit. It got me thinking."
And after revaluating his priorities with the help of his friend Thomas Downing ("T" as Zuniga calls him), the future was bright.
Zuniga decided to get back to doing what he loved. Running.
"It's been the best thing I could ever do," said Zuniga who lost 20 pounds after his first month and joined is his first race in over a decade three months in. "It just makes me happy."
Today, Zuniga knows he probably doesn't have a shot at making the Olympics or being a world renowned runner. In fact, he knows a lot of his dreams as a younger man aren't realistic anymore.
And he's okay with that.
"I have new goals. You know when I started back, I kept thinking back and was mad at myself for giving up my dream. 'Why'd I do that?' I thought. You know, just stuff like that. But now I know I am so lucky that I get to live my dream today," said Zuniga, who is also making steps to become a running coach.
"Maybe if I kept with it, I'd of quit at 30 or blown out my knees at 35. But now I get to do this. I get to live my dream."