ORLANDO, Fla. – When you ask Dr. Luis Allen what inspired him to start running, his answer begins with survival.
“I feel that we have received a gift every day after Nov. 26, 2008,” said Allen, psychiatrist and medical director of AdventHealth Center for Behavioral Health.
The mood shifted in his office as Allen remembered the details of his family trip to Mumbai in 2008.
“We, as a family, count our life as before Mumbai and after Mumbai,” Allen said.
It was the second overseas trip Allen and his wife planned with their two children, ages 8 and 11. During the last three days of the vacation, the family experienced an unimaginable trauma. Inside the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, they hid under a bed while guests were pulled out of their rooms and killed by members of a terror group.
"Literally what we had was Toblerones, because from the mini bar, and that was our meals for two days," Allen said.
Allen said his family remained silent in hopes they wouldn’t be found.
“There is not much explaining to do except you’ve got to be very quiet, because we didn’t want to be found there,” he said.
After 48 hours, Allen’s family was rescued and returned home to Central Florida. He began seeing patients again and the family spent time in therapy to begin their mental health recovery.
"We just didn't want that event to kind of define us and keep us afraid," Allen said.
To address his own mental health, Allen turned to exercise, specifically running. He started with 15-to-17-minute runs on the treadmill a few times a week to prepare for his first 5K race.
He called running “transformational.”
The initial 5K turned into several others, leading to 10Ks and eventually more than 40 marathons.
“We visited in the past decade probably 25 different countries,”Allen said, pointing out some of the race bibs hanging in his office from Berlin, Chile, Tokyo and New York City.
This month, Allen will be taking part in the World Marathon Challenge. As part of it, he plans to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. The challenge begins Thursday in Antarctica and ends next week in Miami.
Dr. Allen is using the opportunity to raise awareness surrounding the importance of mental health, as well as to raise funds for the Mental Health Association of Central Florida. An anonymous donor will also be matching donations up to $15,000.
Click here if you’re interested in supporting the cause.