Human Interest

Carlos Arciniegas, the unstoppable 79-year-old Colombian athlete

By Jorge Gil Ángel

Bogota, Aug 18 (EFE).- On the cusp of 80, Colombian Carlos Enrique Arciniegas remains dedicated to high performance sport.

The Guinness World Record holder remains in good shape, his motivation unchanged for 30 years and he plans to carry on as long as his body allows.

The long-time Cuba-based Arciniegas has dedicated himself to the triathlon for more than three decades, something he pursues to stay fit and inspire youngsters.

“I do it for myself, to improve myself, to avoid any kind of illness,” he tells Efe in his family home in Colombia’s capital, Bogota.

Arciniegas says he observes how many people do no sport and lead sedentary lifestyles. But he has also inspired people to start exercising from a young age.

In his Colombia home, the 79-year-old athlete has a room covered from floor to ceiling with newspaper cuttings of his sporting exploits spanning six decades. As a young man, he took part in the first edition of Colombia’s Vuelta de la Juventud cycling race.

Lining his walls are dozens of trophies and medals collected over the years, as well as photos of his son Juan Carlos, who often accompanies Arciniegas on his sporting adventures.

He also has a copy of the 1997 Guinness World Records, which lists his astonishing feat of completing the longest-ever duathlon, an 8,400-kilometer journey from Bogotá to Houston over 129 days.

On July 28, Arciniegas took part in the Pan-American and South American swimming masters in open water, securing second place in the over 80s category representing Cuba.

“When I am in Cuba I train better because I have a daily routine to do things. I get on my bike every day, do two or three hours of swimming and return home at around 4pm. This is enough training for me to compete,” Arciniegas, who is also an avid fisherman, says.

His life story reads like a movie script. In 1993, against the odds, the wind and the waves — as well as the advice from his son — he began the journey that took him from Colombia through Central America, Mexico and onwards to the United States, where he completed his impressive duathlon.

He originally aimed to make it to Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, accompanied by a partner who managed his vehicle and filmed the journey, which began in Bogotá.

“I have a very special anecdote about my son,” Arciniegas tells Efe. “When I left Plaza de Bolívar (in Bogotá) to do the first 150 kilometers to Honda, he left in his car and drove beside my bicycle to say: ‘dad, this is crazy, don’t do it, you won’t make it’.”

He responded: “I’m already off, I can’t return or look back because it doesn’t suit me.”

Arciniegas then ventured through the dangerous Darién Gap on the border of Colombia and Panamá, with a new partner, an undocumented migrant from Chile, who took over the filming of the trip until police stopped him on the border.

In Panama, Arciniegas sought the backing of the Colombian embassy and Coca-Cola to complete his travels through Central America. His goal was to arrive in the US city of Atlanta, which would hold the Olympic Games three years later.

The beverages company sponsored him until San Antonio in Texas but, according to Arciniegas, did not continue the deal due to his age. He was over 50 at the time.

“It was a risk for them in case I had an accident. They would have had to respond because I was wearing the colors of the brand. So I turned to the Colombian community there and they helped organize a caravan to Houston,” he adds. EFE


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