Bronx Born, Bronx Raised, Bronx Spirit
Bronx native Santos Avila had never been a runner, but in 2013, a few years after graduating from Union College, he decided to try the Bronx 10 Mile. He’d recently moved back to the borough and was looking for a way to get active.
Avila’s close friend and fraternity brother Jose Hernandez lived near the course and came out to cheer for his college buddy. Hernandez, also a Bronx native, had been diagnosed with leukemia at age 10. Despite his illness, he ran track in high school. By the time he enrolled at Union in 2005, he’d grown too sick to run, but that didn’t dampen his passion for the sport.
Avila ran the Bronx 10 Mile again in 2014 and 2016 and Hernandez returned to the sidelines to cheer him on, even as his condition worsened. In January 2017, Hernandez died of brain cancer.
As the 2017 New Balance Bronx 10 Mile approached, Avila sought a way to keep Hernandez’s memory alive. “I thought, ‘How can I honor Jose?’” he recalls. He decided to dedicate his race to his friend’s memory and recruited several fraternity brothers to run with him. They made T-shirts with “We’re In It Together: Team Jose” on the front and “Bronx Born, Bronx Raised, Bronx Spirit” on the back.
“He was born in the Bronx and raised in the Bronx, and he always supported what I think running represents: people from all different walks of life coming together to fight through a challenge and be successful,” says Avila. “Jose really embodied that passion for challenging himself through an adverse situation. He was a humble, genuine, loving human being.”
Avila and his crew ran together and crossed the finish as one. The time was 48 minutes slower than Avila had run the previous year, but that didn’t matter. Hernandez’s family greeted them afterward, thrilled by the tribute.
On September 30, Avila will return to the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile, once again running to honor his friend’s memory. And once again, Hernandez’s family will greet them after the finish.
“One of the biggest things Jose preached was family,” says Avila. “We still have that connection with the family. We’re constantly in contact with them to make sure they’re OK and see if they need anything from us.”
He hopes to make the run an annual tradition and to use next year’s race to raise money for pediatric cancer research. “I’m willing to do this for as long as I live,” he says.