OGDEN — In 2016, serious health problems due to raging acid reflux sidelined Carlos Espinoza from the aerospace job he enjoyed so much. And that loss, along with physical pain from recent surgeries, sunk him into a deep, dark hole.
“It just put me in a whirlwind going down,” Espinoza said.
Becky Wisner, his partner of eight years, did her best to keep tabs on him.
“To not be able to work really put him in a deep, deep depression. I work in the medical profession and I would ask him every once in awhile, ‘Babe, are you OK? Are you depressed?’ Of course he’d say ‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’” Wisner said.
But one night, she knew he wasn’t.
“I could tell there was something a little bit different that day. And I said ‘Carlos, are you OK?’” Wisner said. “He didn’t answer … I said ‘I need to know if you have a plan to take your life.’ I just straight out asked him.”
It turns out he did.
“My response was 'yes, I’ve been asking the Lord to take my life for the last two to three weeks,'” Espinoza said. “And for some reason that released a lot of worries, and that was the best sleep I’d had in a long time.”
But that relief was short-lived. The next morning after Wisner left for work, Espinoza said he sat with a loaded gun in his hand, contemplating suicide. But he remembered the devastation caused by the self-inflicted deaths of his cousins and wanted to spare Wisner, her son and his son from having to endure that agony.
So instead of pulling the trigger, he phoned Ogden Clinic and relayed his mental turmoil. Staff there told him to come in as soon as he could. And they kept calling him back to see when he’d arrive. So Espinoza finally showed up, and ended up voluntarily admitting himself into the hospital.
“He was in there for almost 12 days, getting regulated and medicated, making sure that he was going to make it,” Wisner said. “And here we are three years later. I don’t want to say the battle’s fully won, because sometimes depression can win … it’s been a long road.”
Running as therapy
Meanwhile, Wisner faced her own health challenges. At age 40, she was diagnosed as prediabetic. Her response was “give me 90 days to change that.”
Wisner began eating differently and also started running, signing up for every race opportunity that came her way. Over time, she dropped 25 pounds, got off her blood pressure medication and was no longer at risk for diabetes.
Now that those physical needs have been met, the 43-year-old Wisner continues to run for other reasons.
“Most of the last year, it’s been more of a spiritual journey for me, an inner-peace journey,” Wisner said. “And friendship — it’s brought tons of friendship for both of us.”
It wasn’t long before Espinoza, now 44, caught the running bug, too.
At first, Wisner began signing him up to volunteer at various GOAL Foundation events to get him out of the house. In Fall 2016, she prepared to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) in Huntsville and Espinoza nonchalantly signed up for the 10K race (6.2 miles). The fact that he hadn’t trained concerned Wisner, but “he did fine,” she said. “That was his first race, and he was hooked.”
Espinoza then signed up for the Striders Winter Race Circuit in each of the last two years and became very competitive. He also did the Ragnar Wasatch Back and Ragnar Northwest Passage, along with the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship at Snowbasin.
Last May, Wisner ran the full Ogden Marathon and Espinoza ran the half.
Between races, Espinoza prefers to run trails simply for the mental nurture and spectacular photo opportunities.
Jim Hutchins, a Weber State University neuroscience professor, began running in 2005 and ran his first Ogden Marathon in 2007. He, too, buys in to the multiple benefits of a running lifestyle.
“For me personally, I need to meditate to keep my life in balance,” Hutchins said. “And I find trail running puts me in a meditative state. Time passes quickly when you’re on the trails.”
Running also adapts well to travel, Hutchins added. His favorite out-of-town run involves making a circuit around the National Mall in Washington D.C. But wherever the run, he loves that he can choose to be social or solitary.
“For me, this is one of the greatest health benefits of running,” Hutchins said. “I can choose whether I want to spend time alone, thinking private thoughts, or whether I want to be among friends.”
Now 40 pounds lighter, Espinoza is also off the combination of prescriptions that kept him going as he battled anxiety and depression.
“A doctor noticed the medications I was on and said I was lucky I woke up every morning,” Espinoza said. “Basically, to me, I was in a coma for two years ... I would stutter, I couldn’t get out my words.”
Fortunately those days are behind him, and he recently started a new job in the aerospace industry. And, he and Wisner have committed to run races every month from May through October.
Saturday, they’re both “doing just the half” Ogden Marathon.
“I’m trying to beat my time from last year. I’m pushing for about 2 hours, 10 minutes,” Espinoza said.
Wisner takes a more low-key approach: “My goal is to just always finish.”
Espinoza expressed immense gratitude for the support he’s found within Ogden’s running community, “especially the GOAL Foundation, I consider them family.”
He also credits running with bringing him clarity and adventure.
“Running saved my life,” Espinoza said. “It gave me something to focus on, set goals and be a competitor again.”
Unfortunately, Wisner faces major surgery this fall for removal of a benign brain tumor. Recovery and rehabilitation is expected to take about four months but, after that, she fully intends to lace up her running shoes and pound the pavement again.
“We’ve been dealt our share of health issues,” Wisner said. “But it won’t stop me from running and it won’t stop me from living the best life I can live.”