‘You set your own limits’, says history-maker Alex Roca

The 31-year-old Spaniard, who has reduced mobility and communicates through sign language due to cerebral palsy, recently completed a marathon – and now he wants to inspire others 04 Apr 2023
A male runner with cerebral palsy raises his hands in the air at the finish line of the Barcelona Marathon.
Roca received messages from prominent athletes and families who have children with disabilities after his memorable marathon finish.
ⒸAlex Roca

Alex Roca Campillo still finds it hard to believe he has crossed that finish line.

“I still don’t have words to describe how I felt,” he said. “I remembered all the months of hard work. I looked at my body and thought that although I had difficulties and a disability, I crossed the finish line and felt very lucky to have completed the 42,195 metres.” 

On 19 March, Roca, an athlete with cerebral palsy who communicates through sign language, made a historical performance by completing the Barcelona Marathon, finishing the race in five hours, 50 minutes and 21 seconds. A video posted on his social media channels showing the crowd’s cheers as he ran the final metres has already been watched more than 14 million times.

He has also received congratulatory messages from sports stars such as Eliud Kipchoge, one of the greatest marathon runners of all time, and the world No.1 tennis star Carlos Alcaraz.

Roca dedicated the run to his grandfather, who was the one to teach him how to walk. @Alex Roca.

“It was amazing to receive messages from so many athletes and support from families who have children with disabilities and cerebral palsy,” Roca said. “I run because I enjoy it and to send a message to the world that all of us can achieve big things, even if we have a physical limitation. 

“Your body does not define your capacity. If you have willpower and resilience, you can achieve a lot.

“When I finished the race, I also remembered my grandfather, who taught me how to walk, and the doctors who told me I would never be able to walk.”

No limits

Roca has cerebral palsy caused by herpetic viral encephalitis contracted when he was six months old. He has reduced mobility on the left side of his body and communicates through sign language.

All of that has never stopped him. Roca started playing football as a child, and about six years ago also took up mountain biking and running.

“Since then, I didn’t stop dreaming," he said. "If, four years ago, someone told me I would be here today having done all of that, I wouldn’t believe it.”

Roca started training for the Barcelona Marathon a year ago, working with a personal trainer and physiotherapist. @Alex Roca

In addition to the Barcelona Marathon, the 31-year-old has completed six half marathons, five triathlons, a six-day mountain bike race through the Moroccan desert, several other endurance challenges and 5k and 10k races.

He started preparing his body for the marathon a year ago and, in the final six months, faced intense training which included running, gym exercises with a personal trainer and physiotherapy, especially for the impact on his knees. 

“I have also prepared myself psychologically because this is so important. For a marathon, you need a lot of motivation and mental strength,” Roca said. “I love running because it is like our lives. When you have a goal, you have to pursue it. If you fall, you need to stand up. Running can connect your mind and your body towards your goal.”

The language of running

Roca also sees sport as a way of communicating with the world.

“I speak through sign language and a lot of people can’t understand me, but through sport I can communicate with others. Sport is also resilience, discipline, teamwork," he said.

Roca completed the Barcelona Marathon in five hours, 50 minutes and 21 seconds. @Alex Roca

Roca lives in Barcelona with his wife, social worker student Mari Carme Maza, and has already set new goals, including a 12k run. Besides ‘sport’, he has another favourite word.

“I love the word ‘no’ because when someone tells me 'no', they will see how I can do it. At least, I will try," the athlete said. “People have told me that I would not be able to live, to walk, that I would have no friends or a partner, that I would not study, and I have transformed all of it into a ‘yes’.”