For Hopkinton resident Erik Gonzalez, the Boston Marathon is his first-ever running event. His motive is to encourage people to be generous and inspire them to realize achievements that others may call impossible. On both accounts, he serves as an extraordinary example.
“Thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,” Gonzalez said. “With MS, the immune system damages the protective covering of nerves. Symptoms can range from numbness and muscle spasms to debilitating loss of function. It can be fatal. Given the disease, I’m fortunate to be able to run the Marathon, though every step of the way, many people have told me all about what I can’t do. One of my aims is for others to see what you can do in spite of obstacles.”
Nearly as impressive is the fact that Gonzalez began running only last March. Facing a period of midlife questioning, he wanted to put energy into something new. His choice to run the Boston Marathon stemmed from the experience of a friend who needed a knee replacement but instead of getting surgery, ran the Boston race. As a result, Gonzalez went from the couch to a 22-mile run in just a year. “Staying motivated for this long has been life changing,” he said.
Gonzalez wanted to be a charity runner to raise money for the Hopkinton Masonic Benevolent Fund. “The organization helps local kids and senior citizens who have needs that aren’t being met,” he explained. “Like the family who lost nearly everything in a fire and received money for new clothes. And the single parent working three jobs who was able to provide nice gifts to her children at the holidays because of their donation. One student wanted to complete a driver’s education program so he could get his license to take his grandmother to appointments. His family couldn’t afford the program, but the fund made it possible.”
Generosity like that is a key reason Gonzalez became a Mason. “My wife, Dana, and I moved to Massachusetts from New York in 2014 and I didn’t know many people here,” he recalled. “By joining the lodge in town, I met many different types of people, but all of them want to give back.”
Not only did Gonzalez find new acquaintances, but the fraternity with his fellow Masons is almost stronger than with blood brothers. Two of them, Chris Stevenson and Gerardo Toledo, are seasoned marathoners and provide support by running with him on the lengthy training routes, even though they are not participating in the Boston race this year.
Gonzalez also benefits from his wife’s support. “Dana is my rock,” he said. “To keep me safe, she gave me the neon green jacket you may see me wearing when I’m running around town.”
Family, friends and people who know Gonzalez from his endodontics practice, as well as some people he doesn’t know, have supported his marathon fundraising (givengain.com/activist/696574/). Gonzalez said, “I don’t like to ask for favors for myself. And even though it is still a challenge for me to request donations, I do it because I know underprivileged children and seniors who are struggling to afford essentials like food and medicine will benefit. People have been very generous. Each contribution will really help people.”
On race day, Gonzalez will warm up at the Masonic lodge, just feet from the starting line, along with other Masons who are running. After that, he’ll have the support of the crowd and volunteers and be accompanied by thoughts of those who will be better off from the donations he has raised.
Go, Erik, Go!