Skip to main content
Original Issue


Way up here, the temperature has dropped 50[degrees] in two
hours and the sun has vanished into a thick fog as German Silva
reaches the sulfurous scars along the top of Xinantecatl, an
extinct volcano an hour and a half from Mexico City that towers
2 1/2 miles above sea level. Silva's running mates, who make the
14-mile ascent to enhance their blood's oxygen-carrying
capacity, pant like tired dogs and begin to feel nauseated, but
Silva breathes as easily as if he were jogging in Central Park.
This is, after all, his backyard running trail, part of a
training regimen that has molded him into one of Mexico's
greatest runners. "Afterward you feel that anywhere else you
could run forever," says the two-time winner of the New York
City Marathon who lives in Toluca, outside the Mexican capital,
with his wife, Miranda, a lawyer, and their six-year-old
daughter, Zyanya Xanthu, and two-year-old son, Riwan. "Doing it
has proved to me that I can endure suffering and become more. It
gives me strength."

Silva, 34, grew up in Tecomate, a village of 500 in east-central
Mexico without electricity or running water. Most residents of
Tecomate work all their lives in the town's sunbaked orange
groves, and Silva, who grew up with 12 brothers and sisters in a
one-room house built by their father, Agapito, was expected to
work in the family grove after his schooling was done. But one
day, when he was 17, on a trip to Mexico City to sell a
truckload of oranges, German happened to meet some of the
country's top runners. He sent the truck back to Tecomate
without him. "I loved running and wanted to train," says Silva,
who as a boy had always run the two miles to school and back.
"My dad told me that if I didn't get serious about farmwork, I'd
starve to death," Silva continues.

Instead, Agapito's 10th child became a national hero. He rose to
prominence by winning the 1994 New York Marathon despite
famously veering off course for 15 seconds when, following a
camera truck, he took a wrong turn.

After the victory he returned to Tecomate for a celebration in
his honor and was asked by the governor of the state of Veracruz
what he would like as a gift. "Give my town electricity," Silva
requested. Within weeks, electricity (and TV sets) arrived in
Tecomate. Silva, who would place sixth in the marathon in the
'96 Olympics, won in New York a second time, in '95, three
months after his father's death.

"In the end my father was proud," says Silva, who is scheduled
to run his final race this month, in Veracruz. He will continue
to run in charity events but plans to focus on raising his
children. "I'm grateful," he says, "that my father knew that
with running, I was able to make a life." --Albert Chen