On a typical Saturday night, Nate Wren might be ringside, shooting the big – and not so big – fights. And May 6 is a big fight, as Canelo Alvarez faces John Ryder in Guadalajara.
And while California’s Wren is no stranger to taking the trip south of the border for work – he’s 3-0 as a pro boxer with all his fights taking place in Tijuana, this photographer will be running a week from Saturday. And running. And running. And running some more.
For 24 hours. Not a typo.
When asked how many times he’s done the Relay of Life of Bakersfield, Wren says, “Technically three times. Because the second time I did it, I did a 36-hour run. I ran 12 hours before the run, and I ran the 24 hours afterwards.”
That first time, Wren logged 115 miles. If you think it’s not easy, take your definition of not easy and times it by a hundred. Yes, to the average layman, this sounds like something crazy. To those who have done distance running, it’s even crazier. And Wren will not argue with you on that point.
“The second time I did it, I ran more,” he said. “But dude, I was out of it. You want to hear the stupidest thing that happened? I don't know who thought it'd be a good idea for me to drive home. I was in and out of consciousness behind the wheel. I'm lucky I didn’t die.”
He’s lucky he didn’t die during any of these relays, which are held to raise money for the American Cancer Society. That’s admirable in and of itself, but this one has a little more attached to it, as Wren is running the relay for the final time in honor of his friend, Rocky Bess, who passed away in March.
“Kathy and Rocky, that was their life,” said Wren. “They had been doing it almost 30 years. They were relay’s unofficial king and queen and had been married 47 years.”
Rocky’s passing left a hole in the relay community, and while Wren had made it clear to himself that last year’s race (which he didn’t train for) was his last one, now he had to put on the shoes one more time in tribute for his friend.
“Rocky believed in me when everyone else was going to quit on me,” he said. “I was like, I know how much relay means to Kathy and Rocky and this is going to be her first relay without Rocky and she was married to him for 47 years. I could tell you she was devastated. And what's crazy is we didn't know then that he was sick. We didn't find out until they told him he had cancer. Christmas Day.”
By March, Bess had passed and despite having less than two months to train for a 24-hour run, Wren didn’t hesitate, agreeing to toe the line a week from Saturday.
“I'm going to go fight for Rocky,” he said. “When he died, that depressed the sh!t out of me. It's going to be her first relay without him. But when things like that happen, you set aside the time for people you care about.”
It’s going to hurt. Wren has done enough of these to know that. What doesn’t help is that the course is a simple loop of a third of a mile. Again, if you’ve done distance running, the preference is to have a varied course to at least provide a little scenery. That isn’t the case on May 6, and as the hours add up, going stir crazy is likely, especially as your peers slowly but surely drop off the course.
“The first time there was hundreds of people trying it the first time,” Wren said. “The second time there was maybe a hundred. And it just kept getting less and less. It started to be me versus myself after the first two times. And I just realized I have to have a reason to do this or I won't do it. And that's why the last time I did it out of love. And this time I'm going to do it for the same reason because I really don't want to let Kathy down because I know how much relay meant to her and Rocky. And this is going to be hard on her because imagine being with someone that long and they're not there anymore.”
Nate Wren is a good man. Ask anyone who’s dealt with him in the boxing business and they’ll tell you the same, even if he refuses to smile in any photos he takes with his subjects. He’s also a renaissance man, a character from a Hemingway novel. But on May 6, he’ll be a runner. For Rocky. For 24 hours.
“I'll tell you a story about the first one because I think that was the most crazy one,” he said when asked what goes through his mind during a race like this. “I was 24 years old. And you know how I looked at that 24-hour run? The last 24 years of my life. I was telling myself, Nate, you can easily give up at any time. It is so f------ easy. And I was telling myself, I'm going to do something that's going to inspire a lot of people, and this is what got me through it. I had so many people start to watch me and there were a lot of cancer survivors out there by this big white tent in the shade. And they were watching me and I realized more of them started to sit there and just watch me. Hour after hour, the sun started going down, people were watching me and I'm f------ losing it at night. My left knee was the worst. And my ankles and my feet when I was 80 miles into this thing, I was getting the worst cramps ever. But I just still kept going.”
For more information on Nate Wren and the Relay For Life, click here.