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After ALS, Ultra-Marathoner Now Runs Only in His Mind

By Justin Breen | April 8, 2015 5:07am | Updated on November 8, 2015 3:02pm

Editor's Note: Alfredo Pedro passed away over the weekend of Nov. 8.

NORTH CENTER — Alfredo Pedro can only run in his mind now.

Last year, the North Center resident was running in 100-mile races. In December, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig's disease.

Now it takes minutes for him to migrate a few steps from his kitchen to his living room in the home he shares with his wife, Kathy, and their two dogs, Cicero and Chucky.

The running outside — one 100-mile race in northern Minnesota in 2013 took him 36 hours, without sleep, to complete — has been replaced by running inside his head. Pedro meditates for two to three hours a day. He said 75 percent of that time is focused on his past jaunts.

"I always think about the mountains, running in the woods or I think about the things that happened to me when I was running," Pedro, 46, said. "That's the only way I can keep my sanity."

Justin Breen says Pedro is trying to cope:

Pedro moved to Chicago from Mexico 25 years ago with his parents and four siblings. He started his own business — Bumper City, an auto body parts store in Austin — from scratch. Two of his brothers were killed in gang shootings when he first arrived. His other brother and his sister work for him at Bumper City, 821 N. Cicero Ave.

Pedro only started running in 2010, when he was a heavy drinker and weighed 230 pounds. He began on a treadmill, then outside to nearby Welles Park, then to the Lakefront Trail and eventually into races — first 10-milers and half-marathons, then marathons, then 50K's, and eventually 50- and 100-milers.

Running, Pedro said, was his salvation.

"I knew running was going to change my life," said the 5-foot-7 Pedro, who lost 75 pounds from his runs and hasn't had a drop of booze since 2010.

The sport also helped Pedro find countless new friends, including many from the Flatlander Ultrarunners group he helped found last year with Scott Kummer. The membership has grown to 600-plus. Many of them have stopped by Pedro's small, cream-colored home, which he rarely leaves.

"They come here more than my real family. I'm not sure you can write that, but that's the truth," Pedro said.

Pedro with one of his two dogs, Cicero. DNAinfo/Justin Breen

Said Kummer, of Bronzeville: "He's always smiling. He gives time to new people and always has the most positive outlook. He is an amazing runner in terms of persistence and endurance. His specialty is tackling long, difficult challenges."

Pedro has finished four 100-mile races, in Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. He and Kummer once ran from Chicago to Milwaukee — 93 miles — just for fun.

In 2013, Pedro was signed up for Midwest Grand Slam of Ultrarunning — a series of four, 100-mile trail races — but during preparation, he started consistently tripping during his runs.

"I thought it was my shoes," Pedro said. "I was tripping everywhere. I would faceplant every time because I couldn't lift my right arm fast enough."

Pedro continued to run until August of 2014 but was forced to stop after an event in Colorado because the right side of his body wouldn't allow him to continue. He hasn't run since.

Pedro didn't know he had ALS, described "as a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord," until he was told by a doctor during a telephone call on Dec. 12, 2014. It was exactly a month before his 46th birthday.

"I thought I was going to be cured," Pedro said. "I never thought it was going to be ALS."

Awards from 100-mile races Pedro has completed and a photo of him and his wife dancing. DNAinfo/Justin Breen

"I've had days here where I'm punching the walls, saying what the f--- has happened," said his wife, an East Side native. "There's been a lot of prayer, a lot of faith, a lot of meditation ... but it's horrible."

Kathy and Alfredo Pedro met 20 years ago while salsa dancing. Kathy described her husband as "an amazing dancer, like an amazing off-the-charts dancer."

Pedro's ALS has prevented him from dancing. His regression has been swift: In December and January, he could walk freely; he then was forced to transition to a cane, then a walker. His dog Cicero — a stray whom the Pedros found while he was walking on Cicero Avenue near Bumper City — used to love tugging a toy rope while Pedro held on. But his owner now lacks the strength to do that.

Pedro said he cries daily, sometimes uncontrollably. He falls at least once a day, but has perfected a technique where he can tip backwards instead of landing on his face.

The other day, Pedro and his wife were flipping through the channels when a film based on Gehrig's life — "The Pride of the Yankees" — came on. He said the couple watched for a few minutes, then turned it off during a scene where Gehrig could no longer utilize his arm.

The ever-spirited Pedro dreams of running again — Kummer and he have even discussed the former pushing the latter in a wheelchair during a marathon — but he'd be happy just to walk.

And while Pedro understands the reality of his circumstances, he's hoping "a miracle can happen."

"I believe in God," Pedro said. "I have so much faith, and I'm not going to give up. And that's my plan."

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