Jocelyn Rivas to Become Youngest Person to Finish 100 Marathons
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - On March 9, 2014, still winter mind you, the temperature climbed to a sweltering 88 degrees in Santa Monica. As luck would have it, that was the day 17-year-old Jocelyn Rivas ran her first marathon. By the time she crossed the Los Angeles Marathon finish line her feet, knees, hips, calves, thighs, hamstrings, everything ached. Her shirt was drenched.
But inside, she was beaming.
“I felt invincible. I felt strong. I felt so amazing,” said Rivas. “A feeling that anything is possible opened up in my mind. It was something I never felt in my life. That feeling, it lasted just a couple seconds.”
Rivas asked herself, “How do I get that feeling again?’
“Run another marathon,” she decided.
Rivas has run a few 26.2-milers since then, 99 total. And come Sunday, Nov. 7, when she joins 13,000 other runners at Dodger Stadium for the Los Angeles Marathon, Rivas will set history.
The woman who was born in El Salvador with a broken back, neck and feet, who was never supposed to walk much less run, at 24 years 9 months and 19 days, will become the youngest woman to run 100 marathons.
Said Rivas, “I can’t believe this journey is coming to an end.”
In 2013, then a 16-year sophomore at Los Angeles’ Foshay Learning Center, Rivas volunteered at the Los Angeles Marathon. She was there for friends running the marathon as part of the Students Run LA program.
“I saw kids 16, I saw adults like 70 years old,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Everyone’s running. Why am I not out there? What’s preventing me being out there?’”
The next March, Rivas fulfilled her 26.2-mile dream. She ran three marathons in 2015, two the next year. In September 2017, Rivas created her goal of becoming the youngest woman to run 100 marathons. She was inspired by political turmoil which threatened to upend her life.
At the time, the Trump administration planned to dismantle the President Obama-era program that protected 700,000 DREAMers from deportation. Rivas is one of those DREAMers.
“I was freaking out. I was going to get deported,” said Rivas. “All these years going to school, I needed to show people we’re here to do good. We’re not here to do any harm. We’re here to help the U.S.”
By a 5-4 vote, the U.S Supreme Court blocked the Trump Administration’s plan.
After running her 25th marathon in 2019, Rivas’ inspiration changed.
“I needed a stronger why,” said Rivas, who lives in the heart of Los Angeles near USC. “The only thing you should care about is what you think of yourself. I want to inspire the world. I want to inspire women, especially women in Southern California, in my own community. If this girl who was born with a broke back, neck and feet, who grew up very poor, not knowing if she’d have food sometimes, someone who’s a nobody, chased this dream, you can do it, too. There’s nothing that can stop you.”
Rivas’ journey has taken her across the country. She has run marathons in 19 states. She ran in a snowstorm in El Paso, Texas, when she slipped on ice, her knees bled but she kept putting one foot in front of the other.
She ran in a New York thunderstorm. She ran three marathons in three days in Dallas, when the temperature soared into the 90s and her toenails cracked and broke.
“You can say I was miserable,” she said.
Her goal was to complete the 100-marathon mission in 2020, but the cancelation of races because of COVID nixed that dream. She had to squeeze multiple marathons in a short period of time. From Dec. 26 of last year, to Jan 3, this year, Rivas ran six marathons in nine days in Florida.
Recalling her feeling after that sixth marathon, Rivas said, “Oh my God, I was dead.
In the home she shares with her mother, on a wall inside her bedroom, hundreds of race-day medals hang.
“The first thing I do when I wake up, I’m usually on my side, and the first thing I see are my medals,” said Rivas. “It reminds me of all the sacrifices I’ve done, all the hard work. It’s more a reminder of hey, you have this. This is just a reminder of how far you can get in life.”
Friends have looked at the medals and told her, “All I see here is money.”
Financially, Rivas’ 100-marathon quest has exacted a toll. While living with her mother saves money, it has been an expensive journey. There’s airline fees, hotel costs, food, entry fees, shoes, gear.
“It has been a lot,” said Rivas, who laughed, then added, “I’ve not counted (the financial cost) because I don’t want to know.”
To land in the Guinness World Record as the youngest woman to run 100 marathons, all of them had to be official races and certified. Rivas’ fastest marathon was 4 hours, 12 minutes, 19 seconds.
After about 25 marathons, Rivas’ body was starting to rebel. Shin splints were the worst. Her right IT band caused pain from her foot to her buttock. Then she met Santa Monica’s Julie Weiss at a marathon expo.
Weiss knew all about running long, over and over again. From March 2012 to March 2013, Weiss ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks to raise money for pancreatic cancer. Weiss’ father, her biggest fan, died of pancreatic cancer. Weiss raised more than $700,000.
Weiss’ biggest piece of advice?
“You have to take it slower,” she told Rivas.
And so to preserve her body, Rivas slowed it down, running 26.2 miles in five, six, sometimes even seven hours.
“She is so inspiring,” said Weiss. “I’m so proud of her. I’m happy to be in a position where I could be her mentor, sort of holding a light there to keep the faith.
Weiss will be running side by side with Rivas come Nov. 7.
Rivas smiles and laughs easily and often. Her smile is broad and bright. She lights up a room. Ask her what she likes about running and that smile turns incandescent.
“I think I feel the most alive when I’m running,” she said. “It makes me feel very confident. It makes me feel beautiful. It makes me feel strong. It’s a feeling of empowerment. It’s a feeling of freedom, being on top of the world. I love how it makes me feel. I love the adrenaline.”
Rosa Rivas, Jocelyn’s mother, calls her daughter a miracle. After being born with a broken back, neck and feet, Jocelyn had to be carried into the hospital the first year of her life atop a pillow, her body was so fragile.
Now, at 24, she bears the strength of a lioness. She wanted to inspire others to chase their dreams and imagine the dreams she’ll inspire.
Somewhere, a teenage girl wondering if she’s smart enough to earn a college degree will see Rivas’ story and say, “Yes I can.” A girl will dream of becoming a doctor, an attorney, an entrepreneur and will read Rivas’ tale and say, “Yes I can.”
Late one recent evening on a FaceTime call, Rivas said of her 100-marathon journey, “This isn’t for me. It’s for other people. Once I crossed that in the Los Angeles Marathon (when she was 17), my life changed forever. If I can do it, so can anybody else.”