JP Hernandez has no problem admitting, “I chose a very unorthodox way of living life to the fullest.” The Hero’s Journey
In 2013, in what was meant to be a “one and done” stunt, the father of two and grandfather of three suited up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM) as Batman. On Sunday, he’ll do so again for the fifth and final time.
For his final STWM, JP will add to the unorthodoxy by adding an extra eight kilometres, extending his final run as the Dark Knight to 50K and closing a chapter in his life defined by memories of over 20 races and thousands raised for charities like Sick Kids Foundation and Oolagen Youth Mental Health.
“Six years ago,” JP says, “running was a better way or coping with my separation and a dark time in my life than heavy drinking.” The first step was joining a running clinic at the High Park Running Room. “I ran some short track as a kid and I immediately fell back in love with it when I joined that clinic. I went from my first 5K to my first half marathon in the same year.”
The reason for lacing up in the first place was inspired by the people who inspire all that JP does to make himself a better person, his children and grandchildren.
His children (ages 24 and 18) and grandkids (ages 7, 5, and 9 months) once again inspired the admittedly difficult decision to shed Batman’s armour and chase his own running goals. “It was easy to think that I shouldn’t stop, but if we don’t constantly have new goals then we’re not really growing and that’s what I want to teach my kids through my own actions.”
Working with coach Nathan Monk and seeing his ability as an athlete blossom to a 40+ minute marathon PB told JP that it was time to focus on his ultimate goal of Boston. As he digs in, his children will still see the drive and perseverance they saw when their father was Batman.
“At the end of the day,” JP says, “the most important people who have their eyes on me are my kids and how I look to them matters more than anything.” When his daughter completed her first 8K in 2016, JP described it as his proudest running moment.
While he’ll leave Batman behind, at least for the foreseeable future, there’s much that he’ll take with him that had its origins in the costume he’s worn for the past four years. Foremost, JP says he’ll take the amazing people he’s met and the friendships formed, including a full crew of Justice League Runners, on his continuing journey.
“Batman gave me a lot,” JP says with a laugh. “In the comic books and movies he fights crime and oppression, but he has no superpowers. That’s the way I’ll always approach running, by never cutting corners and trying to live up to the standards of a hero.”
Batman was perhaps the gateway to bringing inspiration to others and to supporting causes that mattered, but in time JP realized that by covering his face on the course he brought his true self to the surface. “I can’t really say there’s any difference between JP and Batman,” he concludes. “I never scowl like Christian Bale even when I’m in pain.”
Instead, he opts to smile and dish out generous high fives. “When I ran the Around the Bay [30K] in 2015, I high fived a kid on course and it turned out his father was just ahead of me.” JP recalls. “That night, his mom wrote on the race’s Facebook page that when his father tucked him in that night, the son was so excited that his dad was faster than Batman. That moment wasn’t about me but about how that kid saw his father.”
JP has also learned in his stint as Batman that he has a genuine drive toward helping others. As he sees it, “Batman was really just an outlet that made me realize who I want to be and where I want to take my life. That’s why at 42 I’m a student again.” Outside of his running goals, JP will also return to school full time to study occupational therapy, carrying on his mission to inspire and empower others to be their best.
On Sunday, he hopes there’ll be no tears at the end of 50K, but cautions, “I’m an emotional guy!”
His fellow Justice League Runners will likely continue the tradition he started and JP hasn’t ruled out a successor, citing Christian Bale’s credo that anyone can be Batman. “It’s always been about something bigger than me,” JP affirms, “but I was glad to put my own stamp on it and I’d do it all over again.”
- Ravi Singh