Nicknamed "The Runner" because of his workout regimen during the weeks he spent stuck underground in Chile, miner Edison Pena has been invited to stretch his legs in one of the most famous runs in the world: the New York City Marathon.
The New York Road Runners Club, which organizes the annual 26.2 mile trek through the five boroughs of New York City, has offered to host Pena during this year's race, scheduled for Nov. 7.
Pena, 34, was the 12th of 33 miners to be rescued this week from the vault where he was trapped for 69 days after a mine collapse.
Perhaps best known for his love of Elvis Presley, whose music he requested while underground, Pena also made headlines for his dedication to running, often covering six miles a day in the mine's corridors.
Such dedication to running, according to Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg, prompted the invitation.
"NYRR wanted to send a message of great support and admiration to Mr. Pena for the heart and soul and fortitude he showed every day by running in the mine," Wittenberg said. "He inspired a lot of us and we just want to say, 'Way to go, well done, we're thankful you had running to help you through such at tough time.'"
Wittenberg said she has been unable to reach Pena or the Chilean consulate to talk about the invitation. Pena was one of the first three miners released from the hospital, where they had been taken for treatment after the rescue.
Pena is welcome to attend the marathon either as a spectator or, if he's up to it, could bypass the already-full registration and run the race, Wittenberg said.
"We would certainly be happy to have him run but we were thinking it might be nice for him to have a relaxing experience and perhaps ride through the streets of New York in front of the race or stand at the finish line and have a chance to bask in what I think will be a very warm reception from both New Yorkers and runners," she said.
Miner Invited to Run Marathon
As many as 45,000 runners are expected to run the marathon, and more than 120,000 applied for a spot. Of those running, more than 200 will hail from Chile, a team of runners that Wittenberg said she is certain would be fine having Pena lead it.
Pena does not have a passport, according to Chilean authorities, and would also need a visa in order to travel to the United States.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Santiago said the agency is waiting for the miners to solidify their plans before it tries to make the process of acquiring the appropriate documents "go as efficiently as possible."
Asked whether she believed Pena's six mile running routine would adequately prepare him for the grueling marathon, Wittenberg said she could never predict what a man who has experienced something like Pena has is capable of doing.
"One would say, based on three to six miles a day a person wouldn't be ready, but I think it's totally foolish to make any comment on Mr. Pena's ability to run a marathon because he has just endured what would appear to be a million multiples of what the rest of us think of as a marathon," Wittenberg said.
If Pena isn't up to running the marathon, a five mile race on the eve of marathon weekend that weaves through New York's historic Central Park is another option. Or if he wants to delay the trip until the spring, Wittenberg said, that's OK, too.
"We would treat him with to a VIP experience and really would want to give him the chance to appreciate the support he'd find from New Yorkers and runners everywhere," she said.
"I'm thankful as a runner that he had running in his life, and he had the comfort and solace that he needed."
Gifts, Invitations Showered Upon Chilean Miners
In addition to the marathon, Pena has also been invited to the historic home of Elvis Presley.
Elvis Presley Enterprises has extended an invitation to Pena to come to Graceland in Tennessee on them. Pena is an Elvis fanatic who had listened to music by the "King of Rock" to pass the time.
"This was a terrible tragedy and we discreetly sent over a few items in mid-September once we learned Mr. Pena was an Elvis fan," said Kevin Kern, the director of public information at Elvis Presley Enterprises. "Elvis was always generous with his fans and thankful, and part of our mission is to continue his good work and legacy. It seemed fitting to help this fan in need by doing what we could to help him pass the time."
Kern said that DVDs, CDs, and even souvenir Elvis sunglasses were sent to Chile, and then down the mineshaft, to Pena.
"Now that this has ended happily, we thought it would be fitting to offer Mr. Pena and a family member a trip to Memphis to visit Graceland where he will be treated like a rock star," Kern said.
Delta Airlines has offered to pay for Pena's flight and his hotel room and meals will also be provided for him.
"We look forward to welcoming Edison to Memphis, the birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll and all things Elvis when he feels up to the trip," Kern said. "Elvis fans are everywhere, and we all now know who is the biggest fan in Chile."
Other items gifted to the miners included an Apple iPod Touch, the popular portable media player, as well as a free trip to the Greek islands of their choice.