When Andrés Renteria asked his daughter what she wanted for her 15th birthday, he had no idea that her answer would change his life. Pictured, Andrés with his daughter Alondra.
In late December 2012, I asked my oldest daughter, Alondra, what she wanted for her upcoming birthday.
In our Mexican heritage, a daughter’s 15th birthday is often marked with a “quinceañera” celebration, and I wanted to do something special.
Being of modest means, I wanted to combine what I would spend on her Christmas and birthday presents to make it even more memorable. I had even saved enough money for a nice computer that she could use to further her talent in graphic arts.
“Alondra, what would you like for your 15th birthday?” I asked.
She replied, “I want you to quit smoking.”
“I want you to quit smoking for my birthday.”
She wasn’t budging on this.
I replied, “That’s not a birthday present!”
And then she said, “I want a father for a long time!”
I said that quitting smoking was not enough of a present, and she said something
that still rings in my ears — something that changed my life.
“Then quit smoking and run a marathon.”
Quitting After 34 Years
On December 31st, at 9:23 p.m., the time she was born 15 years earlier, I smoked my last cigarette after 34 years of smoking. I was 45, and I had started smoking when I was only 11.
I thought about having a cigarette often for the first 3 months after quitting. But the thought of breaking the promise I made to my daughter — and, really, my whole family — would erase the craving.
Almost 9 months later, in September 2013, I was ready to start working on the second part of my present. I set out to conquer running a mile.
I didn’t quite make it. It took me 10 minutes to run two-thirds of a mile, and I felt like I almost died from the burning inside my chest caused by all those years of smoking a pack a day.
But I did not give up. I took my 205 pounds to the treadmill and the elliptical machine, and slowly, I started gaining endurance and losing pounds. On December 26, 3 months after my first mile attempt, I ran a full mile, in 9 minutes and 23 seconds. Those digits, 9:23, matched the time of my daughter’s birth.
Lighter, Stronger, and Healthier
A friend suggested I sign up for a race to help me focus my training and give me a goal. So, I registered for a half marathon on the American River Parkway.
My co-workers used to laugh at me when I talked about someday running a marathon, but by March 2014, I was halfway there. I was able to complete 13.1 miles during training, and I felt ready to do the half marathon in April. My boss at the time suggested I should go on to run the Boston Marathon.
I had already shed almost 40 pounds and was feeling a lot stronger and lighter. My former self had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and borderline diabetes, but my numbers were now healthy and normal. The fire inside my chest when I ran had faded away, replaced by a burning desire to not only run the California International Marathon in Sacramento, but to qualify for Boston, too.
Granting Alondra’s Birthday Wish
I finished the Parkway Half Marathon in just over 1 hour and 42 minutes, and then ran the California International Marathon in December 2014. When I crossed the finish line, I realized I had qualified for Boston with almost 5 minutes to spare. I had also transformed myself from a smoker into a marathoner, and I had granted my daughter’s 15th birthday wish.
Since then, I have run the California International Marathon every year, qualified for Boston each time, and run the Boston Marathon twice. This year, I was sponsored and supported by the Kaiser Permanente Roseville Emergency Department staff.
These days, I have set my sights on even longer races. I have run the 50-mile Tahoe Rim Trail race, and I’m planning my first 100-mile race in November.
I am alive, and I am healthy, thanks to Alondra’s birthday wish nearly 6 years ago. And at the finish line of every race I run, she is there. She hugs me, and she says, “Dad, I’m so proud of you.”
Andrés Renteria works in the Staffing department at Kaiser Permanente Roseville. He is married and is the father of 3 children. His daughter Alondra is now 20 and is attending the University of California Davis, where she is majoring in Art.
Need help with quitting tobacco? My Doctor Online has resources for planning, support, and information on the latest medications to help you quit. Kaiser Permanente offers wellness coaching to members at no additional cost to help with healthy changes, such as quitting tobacco, managing weight, and increasing exercise.