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Age doesn’t matter when you are passionate. Alejandro Ruiz wears a 44-pound suit made out of stuffed animals to inspire others to run.
In every Mexico City race, the capital’s streets fill with sports enthusiasts. Yet, among the crowd of racers, there is one runner in particular who manages to catch everyone’s eye. Alejandro “El Peluches” Ruiz is 60 years old, but he is in better shape than most of the twenty-something athletes. However, his physical condition is not his only impressive trait: the crowd can’t help but notice the enormous and colorful teddy-bear suit he wears in every single race.
El Peluches (“The Teddy”) started running when he was just 19 years old, but he came up with the idea of his costume just over a decade ago. “I wanted to bring something different to the race. Contribute to making it better.”
His peculiar jacket is made out of more than 200 teddy bears. The garment also weighs around 44 pounds (20 kilos), and he wears it during 5Ks, 10Ks and even marathons. “A kid got me my first teddy bear,” Ruiz remembers. “I pinned it to my t-shirt and that’s how all of this started. With a kid.”
Ruiz’s suit definitely stands out from the crowd, but although the stuffed animals are a real differentiator, his attitude is what makes him a memorable athlete. Ruiz runs with not only a costume, he is also armed with plastic trumpets, rattles and whistles. “I just want to cheer everyone up, you know. Leave no man behind.”
In every marathon, there is a point where some runners might find it difficult to continue, but that’s why El Peluches is there — to inspire. If the trumpets aren’t enough, Ruiz has a plan B. On top of his teddy-bear jacket, he also carries an emergency satchel. “I’ve got a bit of everything: aspirin, painkillers, energy bars…. You never know when someone will need it.”
Running is more than just a hobby for Ruiz — it’s a lifestyle. He took an interest in sports when he was very young as a way to escape from the harshness of his surroundings. He started playing basketball and fronton, but he soon discovered that running was his calling. In racing, he found the solace he couldn’t get at home and that kept him away from poor life choices.
“My dad didn’t have an easy life,” says Lorena Ruiz, El Peluches’ daughter. “He struggled since he was very young. He was an orphan, and he had to take care of himself from an early age. That’s why he’s such an inspiration to me and to many people.”
Ruiz says people didn’t take him seriously when he began to run, especially when he started wearing the costume. “People would make fun of me, but I didn’t care. What I wanted was to avoid addictions and to serve other runners. I think I’ve managed to do that.”
Ruiz makes his own suits and hats with things that people give him. When he first started dressing up for races, he used Mexican symbols for his costumes. “I’m honored to be a Mexican. I love my country and its colors. Every time I hear the national anthem, I get goosebumps.”
El Peluches also thinks that there’s not a better way to get to know a country than running. “My favorite spot in Mexico City is Avenida Reforma. It’s definitely the best place to run, but I prefer running in other states because you get to meet so many new people.”
Ruiz has run in other cities like Guadalajara, Monterrey, Mérida, and Oaxaca, but his dream race is the New York City Marathon. “That’s the goal. I can’t wait for the day I can finally afford a ticket to run in the Big Apple.”
And although Ruiz loves Mexico, he admits the country doesn’t support athletes as much as they perhaps could. The entry fees for the races are not always affordable, and he thinks that’s one of the reasons people don’t get involved in sports as much as they should. “I try my best, but sometimes it’s hard to cover the expenses. Luckily, runners are like a family to me, and we always find a way to help each other.”
El Peluches is not a typical athlete, and neither is his training. Unlike other runners, Ruiz doesn’t exercise or go to the gym. “I work as a tortilla delivery guy. I pedal my bike for hours and hours every day, and that’s more than enough to run a marathon if you ask me.”
Additionally, he doesn’t have a special diet. El Peluches loves Mexican food. He eats more than 20 tortillas per day, and breakfast can’t be complete without at least three or four pieces of sweet bread. “He eats like a horse, but he never gains weight,” Lorena explains. “The suit doesn’t let you see it, but he’s just skin and bones. I don’t know how he does it.”
Yet, since Ruiz runs a race every single week, it’s not hard to see why he has such a slim figure. Even with the 44-pound suit, he can finish a 10k race in about an hour. Moreover, he never does warm-up exercises. “I just ride my bike from home to the starting line, and that’s all I need.”
Although he once was a laughable athlete, those days are long gone. Nowadays, El Peluches is an inspiration. People wave at him on the streets, and children approach him as if he were a Disney character. Ruiz says that, despite the years, he hasn’t gotten used to the displays of affection from other people.
“People clap when I run in front of them, and some of them have even sent me money to compete in other races. I can’t believe how much this community has given me,” he confesses, moved to tears.
However, the runner wishes to give something back to what he calls his “adoptive family.” “There’s nothing like the smile of a kid,” he says. “I hope I can inspire them to run, or at least to never give up, to keep trying.”