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A beloved Chicago trail runner, Alfredo Perro Pedro, died on Sunday, November 8, after a year-long battle with ALS.
Pedro, a co-founder of the Flatlander Ultrarunners group, was 47 years old, and had only been running for five-and-a-half years. But in that short time, he impacted the lives of hundreds of others, in his hometown and elsewhere.
“He only brought positive energy to the running community,” says his friend Melissa Pizarro. “He was encouraging of everyone and never made you feel any less than him, regardless of what distance you ran.”
In the late 1980s, when Pedro was 16, his parents moved to the United States, leaving him in Mexico to take care of his three younger siblings. He finished high school, and some college, before quitting to manage a local store.
Once his parents were settled, the four kids joined them in 1990. However, the United States didn’t provide the comfortable new life the family had been hoping for. Within just a few years, both of Pedro’s younger brothers died in gang-related violence.
Pedro was a fixture in the Chicago and Midwest trail-ultra scene. Photo by Scott Laudick
Pedro knew that in order to make a better life for himself he had to get out of that neighborhood. He loved rock music and wanted to learn to dance like Elvis Presley, so he enrolled in ballroom-dance lessons at a studio on the other side of town. He had no car, and no money, so he rode his bike—nearly 15 miles each way.
He developed a special affinity for Latin dances like salsa and merengue, became a regular at local nightclubs, entered competitions and won. Studios invited him to auditions. He went to a few, but decided that the life of a professional dancer was not for him.
Pedro then turned his full attention to Bumper City, an auto-parts company he had started a few years prior. Business left little time for dancing. As the daily stress wore on him, he turned to food and alcohol for relief. Within a few years he had gained over 80 pounds. When his father died in 2010, at 64, Pedro realized that something needed to change.
He began attending AA meetings and, in April 2010, ran his first 5K, the Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago. Almost immediately, says his wife Kiki, “he was hooked.” He joined the Chicago Area Runner’s Association (CARA) and trained for a marathon. Then another.
“After he ran his second marathon, he came to me and said, ‘In two weeks I’m going to run a 50K,'” Kiki recalls. “I said, ‘What do you mean? You’ve been training for a marathon, now it’s time to rest.'”
But Pedro was determined to experience what he’d heard so many others refer to as the “runner’s high.” The marathon hadn’t done it. Maybe 50 kilometers would. In 2011 he ran his first ultra, the Chicago Lakefront 50K, wearing jean shorts and a Mexican Luchador mask.
The following year he ran two more 50Ks, three 50-milers, a 38-miler and the Howl at the Moon 8-hour Ultra Run.
Friends remember Pedro as an ever-positive presence. Photo by Scott Laudick
He quickly made friends with other runners. Those who weren’t already soon became ultrarunners, at Pedro’s encouragement and insistence. He was determined to prove that he could do anything—and prove to others that they could, too.
Chicago-based attorney Scott Kummer met Pedro in 2012, when they paced a mutual friend in her attempt to run across the state of Illinois. They were both recovering alcoholics and passionate rescue-dog lovers, and decided immediately that they should be friends—and run their first 100-mile race together.
Kummer had never even run a 50-miler before, but he dutifully filled the rest of his year with 50K and 50-mile races. The following April, he and Pedro finished the Potawatomi 100-miler in Perkins, Illinois.
Melissa Pizarro met Pedro toward the end of 2010, when he was training to run his first 50K. She had never run longer than a 5K, and was intimidated by him. Slowly, she built up her mileage until she was able to keep up with him on the trails. When he and Scott signed up for the Potawatomi 100 in 2012, Pedro asked her to pace him.
“Afterwards I remember him saying, ‘Now that you did this, you are ready for your first 100-miler,’” she says. Two months later she finished Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine 100.
Passion and determination were Pedro’s defining features, ultimately earning him the nickname “Moose.” As Kiki puts it, “He just put down his head and went for it.” By “it” she means everything he did.
“He was notorious for trying really, really hard things even if he didn’t know what he was doing,” says Kummer. Like running the world’s longest Turkey Trot—93 miles from Chicago to Milwaukee—which he and Kummer did on Black Friday, 2013. Why? Because they wanted to run a 100-miler and there weren’t any scheduled at the time.
Sharing a moment with fellow runners. Photo by Scott Laudick
“I always felt like I could do anything if he and I were running together,” says Kummer. “We spent a lot of time suffering together—long, cold runs on the [Chicago] lakefront in minus-10-degree temperatures—but he brought a happiness that made those things more bearable.”
Ultrarunner and radio reporter Jen DeSalvo remembers that Pedro was especially proud of the fact that he could out-run his two rescue dogs, Chucky and Cicero. He brought them on training runs with him, in rotations—10 miles with one dog, back home, then another 10 miles with the other dog.
Pedro loved ultrarunning so much that he, Kummer, Pizarro and two other friends decided to start their own club, the Flatlander Ultrarunners. The group is Chicago-based but spans the entirety of the Midwest, connecting anybody who is, or aspires to be, an ultrarunner.
A Runner Until the End
In the spring of 2013, Pedro ran the Sawtooth 100. When he finished, his wife Kiki noticed that the toe of his right shoe was unusually worn. This might have been normal, except for the fact that it was a brand-new pair.
By April, he was falling. A lot. When he crossed the finish line of the Indiana Trail 100 he was covered in cuts and bruises. He had tripped his way through the entire course, unable to get his arms out fast in enough to catch himself. Instead, he simply face planted, over and over.
Later that summer he DNFed at the Kettle Moraine 100 and Mohican 100. “By August, we knew something was way up,” says Kiki. “In December 2014 we finally went to the doctor because he couldn’t stand up anymore.”
The ALS progressed rapidly, and Pedro was soon bound to a wheelchair. But that didn’t mean that his relationship with running was over.
“Running, to Alfredo, meant self-control, forgiveness, rehabilitation,” says DeSalvo. “He was very public about the changes he had made by running those first steps five years ago. In the last year, ALS took over his body, but he kept that mental strength.”
Jen DeSalvo asleep on Pedro’s lap at mile 80 the Potawatomi 100 in April. “I kept thinking, ‘Alfredo can see me finish next time,'” she says. “Then I realized that there was no next time.” Courtesy of Jen DeSalvo
This past April, on the two-year anniversary of Pedro’s first 100-mile race, a friend drove him to Perkins to watch DeSalvo run the Potawatomi 100. It was her first 100 and he wanted to be there to see her finish.
He arrived just as she was coming to the 80-mile aid station. Exhausted, she collapsed into Pedro’s lap and fell asleep.
“I kept thinking, ‘I’ll finish the next one. Alfredo can see me finish next time,'” she says. “Then I realized that there was no next time. He would never run a 100-mile race again, and chances were that he would never have the chance to see me finish another 100-mile race, either.”
She woke up, and finished.
At the finish. Courtesy of Jen DeSalvo
In October, Pedro participated in the St. Pats 24-Hour Race for ALS in South Bend, Indiana. Kummer and several other friends pushed him around the track in his wheelchair. In all the pictures from that event, he is smiling. “He always had an extremely positive energy about him,” says Kummer. “Even when things got bad in a race, he was still smiling and shuffling along.”
The end, Kiki says, was peaceful. He died in his sleep. But she already sees his spirit living on in the runners whose lives he touched, the people who ran their first 5Ks or 100-milers because of him.
“I have been blown away by the people that have come forward to offer support,” says Kiki. “I don’t even know most of them, but they knew Alfredo. They love him to such a degree.”