Chilean miner returns to run NYC Marathon

Edison Pena speaks at a news conference in New York, Nov. 3, 2011. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

NEW YORK - Rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena sang no Elvis tunes this time.

A subdued Pena has returned to run the New York City Marathon on Sunday, after a year in which he was hospitalized in Santiago for psychological problems and reported drug and alcohol issues.

Having spent 69 days trapped underground last fall with 32 fellow miners, Pena says the trauma of the event has "hit us now." The first anniversary of the rescue was Oct. 13.

"I don't really want to go into depth about the challenges that I faced, but suffice to say that I have gotten help and declared a truce with the problems I've had," Pena said at a New York Road Runners press conference Thursday before about 40 reporters. "I'm very fortunate to have a team of therapists, and right now I feel pretty good."

It was a stark contrast from the press conference last year, when a jovial Pena charmed more than 100 media members and topped it off with a rendition of "Return to Sender" by Presley. He declined a request for song, saying many of his fellow miners don't have jobs and suffer from "psychological issues" and insomnia.

"The impact of being trapped in the mine — we're feeling after we got out of the mine," Pena said through an interpreter.

He's received no financial benefit from the mining company or the Chilean government, but has gotten support from his wife and family during his ordeal, he said. No book or movie deals have materialized.

"The hardest time of the last year was when I was hospitalized. I realized that I felt like I was divided in two," Pena said. "That there was a normal me and a me that was a gorilla, and that I need to control that gorilla."

He's back to tackle the 26.2-mile course in New York because "running is very therapeutic for me."

"I decided to run again because I wanted to encourage others, and I wanted to show them and show myself that, 'Yes, we can,"' he said.

The 35-year-old Pena earned the nickname "The Runner" after logging up to six miles each day through the gold and copper mine tunnels to keep his mind and body sharp. He ran in steel-toed boots in the sweltering darkness until rescuers managed to make contact after 17 days and lowered down food and a pair of running shoes.

He also requested Presley songs be sent down and sang for his trapped miners to lift their spirits. His beloved singer was blasting over speakers when he crossed the NYC Marathon finish line last year, draped in the Chilean flag. He ran, walked and hobbled on a bad knee to finish in 5 hours, 40 minutes.

His whirlwind U.S. tour included an appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" and a visit to Graceland, Presley's estate in Memphis, Tenn.

NYC Marathon director Mary Wittenberg and the NYRR organizers were in touch with Pena after he finished the Tokyo Marathon in February. When they learned of Pena's emotional struggles last month, they got in touch with the Chilean consulate in New York and Pena's therapist in Santiago to check on his status.

"We worked through the consulate and wanted to ensure that this made sense for Edison," Wittenberg said. "We threw our arms open wide to welcome him back here to New York."

Accompanied by his therapist to New York, Pena cracked a rare smile during the press conference when he heard himself singing an Elvis tune during video highlights of his marathon quest from last year.

"Stay tuned for songs," Pena said. "Maybe not today, but another day."

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