In November 2015, Houston’s Aaron Burros was shot five times. He was at work when he heard a commotion and went to help whoever was in distress. Burros did help, distracting the enraged individual while everyone in danger got away, but he was not so lucky. Lying on the ground after tackling one of the assailants, Burros stared up at another man, who was ready to shoot him. He now says everything slowed down in those moments, giving him a chance to wonder if he was going to die.
Fortunately, the gunman misfired his first shot, which only grazed Burros’s torso, giving him just enough time to get up and run away. As he fled, he was hit in both glutes, but he managed to get to safety without being shot fatally. Almost six years later, Burros is still plagued by the terrifying memories of that day, and a bullet fragment left in his right glute is a physical reminder of the attack, still sending shots of pain up and down his leg with each step. Despite all of this pain, both physical and mental, he continues to run, which he says gives him purpose, even in his darkest moments.
Today, Burros is in the middle of a year-long running challenge in which he is looking to run 50 marathons in 50 weeks in the 50 U.S. states, all as a celebration for his 50th birthday. He’s using the challenge as a way to fundraise for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, with the hope of raising a grand total of $50,000.
So far, Burros has completed 24 races this year, leaving him a little behind his goal of close to one per week. He has missed a few races, for various reasons, but he has made it to the start line of most of them, and he’s continuing to work toward his ultimate goal of raising $50,000.
Burros’s running journey
In 2010, years before he was attacked, Burros weighed close to 400 pounds. Looking to lose weight, he began running, slowly at first and only for 15 minutes or so each day. As any runner knows, though, with persistence comes fitness, and after a year, Burros had lost 100 pounds and gotten much better at running. By 2015, he was a seasoned marathoner, and he signed up for a 50-miler.
“That was set for two weeks after I got shot,” Burros says now. After undergoing surgery to have the bullets removed from his glutes, Burros asked his doctor if he could still run the race. His doctor told him that it would be a brutal run, but he wouldn’t cause any further damage, so Burros decided to go for it.
“I played sports my whole life,” Burros says. “My threshold for pain was high, so I just went out and tried to do the ultra.” He made it to about the 40-mile mark, but then he started falling down over and over again. He wasn’t tripping on anything, but he simply couldn’t stay on his feet. “There was this medic there who kept asking if I was OK. He told me to walk.”
Burros took the advice and slowed down, but not even a mile later, he was hit with an anxiety attack. “That was when my PTSD kicked in,” he says. “The anxiety, the depression, the crying spells. I couldn’t even walk in a straight line.” Burros didn’t make it to the finish that day, and he required assistance to get off the course. Going into the race, he had figured that the only obstacles he would face would be physical, and while he encountered his fair share of those challenges, it was the mental injury he suffered that forced him to pull out of that race.
“I had no clue what I was going through at that point,” he says. “I was facing all kinds of emotional battles.” For the next four years, Burros saw a number of specialists to help him work through the trauma, but he says his mental state only continued to worsen. It got to the point where he stopped doing pretty much everything, including running.
“I would wake up, sit at Starbucks all day, then go home and go to sleep,” he says. “I did that for four years. Unless I was going to my appointments, that was it, I didn’t go anywhere else. I didn’t know how to function.” In that time, he regained much of the weight he had lost before he was shot, until the scale eventually said 299.
“I told my psychiatrist I had to do something, that I wasn’t going back to the 300 club,” Burros says. “For me, gaining weight back was just as damaging as being shot.” He got back into running, setting a big goal for himself: to run each of the six World Marathon Majors (WMMs). In 2019, Burros checked four of those races off his list, running in London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.
He had plans to run the Tokyo and Boston marathons in 2020 and complete his goal in just one year, but both mass participation events were cancelled due to COVID-19. This year, he will run the Boston Marathon, and he hopes to check Tokyo off his list in 2023. (Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon have closed the race to international runners this year and next, meaning anyone like Burros has to wait until at least 2023 to cross the event off his bucket list.)
Coming into 2021, Burros decided to celebrate his 50th birthday with a goal even more audacious than his plan to run all six WMMs. “I was turning 50 and I wanted to do something meaningful, to have some hope,” he says. “I know what running means to me, so I chose to do something with my running.”
50 in 50 in 50
Burros billed his event as running 50 marathons, and while most races he’ll run this year are 42.2K, he has mixed in a few 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and even some ultras. Running 50 races in 50 weeks in all 50 states is a big goal, and it has taken its toll on Burros. “It’s been challenging, frustrating and overwhelming at times,” he says. But he has held onto hope throughout the journey, and managed to push through tough times. Two of his driving forces come in the form of children: Aiden and Gabby.
Aiden is a boy Burros met at the Chicago Marathon in 2019. He suffers from multiple illnesses, and Burros began to pray for him, but he didn’t think that was enough, and he decided to take action. After researching different causes, Burros decided to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“I know medical costs can break a family, so I wanted to do something to help them and honour Aiden and Gabby,” he says. Burros only met Aiden briefly, but he has a close connection to Gabby, who is his grand-niece. Just before starting his 50 in 50 in 50 challenge, Burros heard from his brother, Gabby’s grandfather, that Gabby had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. Her kidney was successfully removed, but doctors found tumours in her skull.
Burros has had a tough time with his running challenge so far, and understandably so, but he uses Aiden and Gabby as inspiration to keep going. He knows he may miss a few weeks along the way, but the number of races he runs isn’t his priority, and instead, his main goal is to help as many children in similar positions to Aiden’s and Gabby’s as possible. To learn more about Burros’s journey and to follow along, click here, and to donate to the cause, click here.