Who are you? Alex Mesa. I was born in Medellin, Colombia, 44 years ago, then moved to New York in 1973, where I lived for 30 years.
What do you like doing? My passion is jogging backwards – the amazing challenge of it and the adrenaline rush that I get while doing it.
Any significant occasions pursuing this pastime? In the 2007 Mercedes-Benz Corporate Run, I was the only one among 20,000 runners who ran the whole 5K backwards, nonstop. I’ve been in a few other runs and gotten awards for them, too.
Your dream? My dream is to see this become a world sport in track and field, such as the Olympics. It is nowhere near the same as jogging forward.
My dream has become bigger since my health got in the way. It has pushed me to the extreme, to go above and beyond. My determination to get jogging backwards acknowledged has been put in full gear.
What do you mean your health got in the way? I am HIV positive. I found out from a Planned Parenthood clinic a day before my birthday in 1993. To date, I have never been sick from it but my stomach has hurt every day for the last 12 years since I injected interferon for my liver from 1999 to 2000.
In 1998, out of nowhere, my body started shutting down and feeling weird. I was very exhausted. I started turning completely yellow. Could hardly walk. I’d take three or more steps and just want to drop.
How did you come through this? My fiancée (may she rest in peace) and my stepson took excellent care of me. With the love and support of family and friends, I pulled through this chaos.
Little did I know I had liver failure. I thought it was the HIV that was getting the best of me. This liver problem – cirrhosis – was what was causing all those complications that affected me and my immune system dramatically. The hospital in Manhattan sent me home twice because there was nothing else they were able to do for me, medically – in other words go home and die in peace. However, like everything else in life, God has the final word and pulled me out of it.
And then you came to Florida? I moved to Boca Raton in 2002. The following year, my fiancée passed away. I was devastated and very angry at myself because I failed her and my stepson. My drinking and drugging got worse and my problems escalated. Last but not least, I kept my liver working overtime, daily. I was in and out of rehabs.
What then? In 2011, I decided it was time to go back to rehab. I had had enough. A month and a half into my recovery my body started feeling strange again. My eyes started turning very yellowish again. I thought, Here I go again.
Keep in mind that when you stop drinking and drugging, your body will start to function normally. Through that process you will feel some serious changes. For those who have problems with their immune system, or diseases in general, they will feel extreme changes internally that will definitely show externally.
How did this medical crisis play out? While in rehab I ended up going to Mount Sinai Hospital. They admitted me immediately. Before I knew it, bursitis got me in my right shoulder and, right behind it, this so-called MRSA [a highly-resistant staph bacteria]. All these problems sneaked up on me. Before I knew it, I had been hospitalized, then put in a nursing home, for a combined 2 ½ months. This MRSA and cirrhosis almost took me out. It was hospital – nursing home – back to hospital.
What happened next? In November 2011, my liver acted up again. I had a dramatic weight loss and became very weak. Mount Sinai realized they could not do anything else for me medically, so they referred me to a hospice, a word I had never before heard of. Little did I know it was a clinic where you supposedly go spend your final days.
How did you take that? I had a very hard time accepting that. That’s when I said to myself, Hospice? Ha! If I am going to die, I will die at home alone with God by my side.
The darkness surrounded me, the misery of waiting to die. The pain I was in was 1,000,000% horrible. I would not wish this on the worst person. I prayed daily, got on my knees, scared I couldn’t get up – no energy whatsoever – and I kept asking God to please take me out of this misery and let me die if there is no future for me. I couldn’t deal with all that pain. I wanted to die.
From whom or what do you derive your vitality? God has given me another chance to enjoy life and given me the power to run backwards again because that’s what I enjoy.
Having one disease is hard but battling two is frustrating and confusing – you don’t know which one is going to attack you first. In my case my liver has been my downfall, which unfortunately affects my immune system. I take HIV meds daily, four pills a day at noon. I hate it. I have to exercise to feel better. I only do it according to my physical conditions on that day. I get weak, nauseous, and want to throw up many times, but I push myself.
What’s your exercise regime like? I do my best to exercise five times a week. I definitely make it a priority to jog backwards two or 3 times a week. And when I do, I run for an hour-and-a-half to 2 hours nonstop on a good day.
Where do you run? I constantly run on South Beach – on Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, and Washington Avenue.
What reaction do you get? It is amazing how people support me in my dream without even knowing everything behind it. People take pictures of me, they film me, wave, honk at me constantly, ask me questions and also have me jog in place for quick pictures with them. Cars pull up next to me as I’m running, drivers question me – high-fives and thumbs-up – what a rush. Throughout all of this, I constantly question myself, How would they react if they knew the story behind this? If they only knew that this has been possible because of their support and that of my family and friends.
You’ve had quite a 180-degree turnaround and come back from the precipice of death. Thoughts? Throughout all these trials and experiences, miracle after miracle kept happening. I’ve reunited with family and friends from school whom I haven’t seen in about 15-plus years. Only God knows how long he will let me continue through this journey. Every time I take one step jogging backwards I dedicate it to him because that is a miracle. I represent what supposedly is not possible.
Video of Mesa jogging can be found on YouTube (“Dude jogging backwards in South Beach”).