Robért Hinojosa remembers watching TV as the news broke of the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013.
It hit hard.
“It sort of reminded me how I felt watching 9/11 — my gut and my stomach sank,” Robért said. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to run Boston next year,’ which is a qualifying marathon. I started running, running, running to be able to do that.”
The Santa Rosa Beach resident never stopped running and never stopped raising money in light of what happened.
He ran the Boston Marathon with Michael’s Miracle Marathon Team in 2014. The team raises money for the Michael Lisnow Respite Center, an official Boston Athletic Association charity that provides services for children and adults with disabilities.
Robért has raised nearly $100,000 in his six years of running for Michael’s Miracle Marathon Team. He ran the 20th annual Antarctica Marathon and Half-Marathon organized by Marathon Tours and Travel with his wife, Shelly Hinojosa, on March 17.
With a painful stress fracture, Robért couldn’t train like he normally would for the marathon.
Nothing could have prepared him for Antarctica anyhow.
“I do something here in Destin called the Destin Ultra, which is 50 miles on the sand,” Robért said. “All 50 miles are on the beach. I’ve done that numerous times — twice as long on the sand.
“This, to me, was worse than that.”
While Robért didn’t feel entirely prepared to run, he didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. The Antarctica Marathon has a three-plus year waiting list with only 100 runners annually.
Robért is more than halfway to his goal of joining the Seven Continents Club, or running marathons on all seven continents. Some of these were accomplished by running qualifying races for the Abbott World Marathon Majors in Boston, New York City, Chicago, Berlin, Tokyo and London.
Nothing was quite like this.
“I think the race director called it the gnarly hills on this brutal course, or something along those lines, because it was that,” Robért said. “It was up and down. There was insane mud. There was a hail storm during one portion of it. Winds of 45 mph with up to 60 mph gusts. It was the most miserable thing ever to tell you the truth.”
More than 15 runners who started the marathon didn’t complete it. Robért was one of the last to finish the race, and it took everything he had, he said.
Robért and other runners with the Destin running group, Run Destin, inspired Shelly to run a half-marathon. It took her an hour longer than usual to finish the Antarctica race.
“They say to plan to be about 25 percent longer than what you normally run,” Shelly said. “It’s not a race that’s meant for time.”
Robért remembers the little chunks of hail stinging as they crashed into his face.
“I was guarding my face,” Robért said. “I pulled my mask up and put my head down and was just trying to make sure I could survive. It looks like you're running on a different planet. It was wild.”
Robért and Shelly both felt a sense of accomplishment after.
“Mentally, I was so happy I did it, and it was over,” Shelly said. “But, physically, I was pretty exhausted. My legs felt like Jell-O.”
“I appreciated it more because I know that I’m not in my normal range, having a physical injury that prevented me from training normally,” Robért said. “The stairs on the boat were definitely hard the next day. I’ve run plenty of marathons and ultra marathons, and I’d never felt like this before.”
Shelly is proud of completing her second half-marathon in Antarctica.
“I’m just an average person,” Shelly said. “I’m a mom. I’m a teacher at South Walton High School. I’ve never been a big runner. I turned 40 and thought I could try to do it, too. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
‘Years to come’
The Antarctica Marathon is only a day, but the journey is much longer.
The runners meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then fly together to Uschuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.
“For the next 10 days, you board a boat, which is essentially an old research vessel, and you live with these people to get down through the Drake Passage down to Antarctica,” Robért said. “You run the race, and for the next three or four days, you tour around Antarctica, and whale watch and penguins and all that good stuff.”
While it isn’t exactly a Carnival Cruise, the travel does come with perks.
“I was on a little, small, black Zodiac boat with eight other people whale watching, and a whale pops up 10 feet behind us all and scares the bejesus out of everybody,” Robért said. “It was one of those things where you have one of those, ‘I can’t believe we’re here’ moments five times a day, every day over and over. It was pretty amazing.”
The boat didn’t have cell service or TV. It gave people a chance to socialize.
“That’s what was really cool, to meet people, hear their race stories or why they’re there — getting to know people,” Shelly said. “You don’t really have any other option unless you want to sit in your room all day. That part was really cool. We made some friends we have a feeling we will see for years to come.”
Robért had planned to reunite with some of the Antarctica marathon runners before the Boston Marathon, which he ran April 15.
Shelly loves experiencing parts of the world while doing something beneficial for her body mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s great therapy, she said.
She also enjoys learning about these countries and why they put on these big races.
“Antarctica is its own unique environment,” Shelly said. “We learned so much about how we all need to respect it and how it’s something to not take for granted. Humans haven’t touched that land. That’s why we can only be on it for a certain amount of time with a certain amount of people, because they want to keep it pristine and precious.”
For Robért, running on any continent goes back to seeing the horrible aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.
“Growing up, I was a volunteer firefighter. I was in the military," Robért said. “I’m sort of the one who runs toward those kinds of things instead of running away. It was in my head that in whatever little way I could, I would help.”