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NFE Athlete Spotlight: Jonathan Sandoval

By October 11, 2022December 27th, 2023NF Endurance, Ways to Give

An avid runner, Jonathan Sandoval is running the TCS New York City Marathon and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with NF Endurance in honor of his son, NF Hero Robinson. Earlier this year, he also ran the Los Angeles Marathon, presented by Asics, marking three full marathons in one calendar year. We asked Jonathan to tell us why he took on such a challenge, and what it means to train and race with the NF Endurance team.

Children’s Tumor Foundation: To get us started, tell us about your NF Hero and their NF journey.

Jonathan Sandoval: Our NF Hero is Robinson Sandoval, who was born in February of 2018, and is a 4.5-year-old, full-of-energy, life-of-the-party, little boy. We first noticed his cafe au lait spots shortly after birth, and that got the ball rolling towards his diagnosis. We are lucky that he has not experienced really any of the “bad” that comes along with the NF1 diagnosis. We know that can change at a moment’s notice of course, and because of that stay right on top of any changes on his body and keep up with all of his appointments.

At first, the doctors were not fun for Robinson, which is expected with a young child, but Robinson quickly grew fond of his doctors and nurses at CHLA and now thinks it is super cool that he has more doctors than anyone else in the family. The doctors are like his little super hero squad, and he is the super hero leader taking his cues from Spidey, Batman, and Captain America! He continues to see his doctors regularly and has taken his baseline tests, including the MRI, which was the most nerve-wracking experience for us!

Dealing with all of the COVID hoops at the hospital also took a toll on us, and he and his mom often had to venture out to these appointments on their own, while me and his older sister, Jurae, 6.5, stayed behind and prayed really hard for good outcomes. We have received the good outcomes so far, and pray that they continue!

Why did you join the NF Endurance team?

I have entered both the NYC and Chicago lotteries many times before, and tried the NYC 26.2 again this year. Again, I was denied, but had a friend whom I run the LA Marathon with most years also enter the lottery and she got in! Not wanting to experience the race alone, she asked me if I would be willing to join a charity team and that we could split fundraising for the minimum amount if accepted. Figuring this might be the only time this offer was on the table, and with really wanting to do something BIG for my 40th birthday year, I agreed. That night I went home and searched some of the charity organizations that offered bibs and to my surprise, I noticed NF Endurance. I knew of NFE from some minimal prior interactions, but had never really dug that deep. I was very encouraged when I saw this and eager to email over to see if there was still room. When I got the reply and decided to join the team, I was intimidated by the $3,000 minimum, but knew I could do it, especially with my friend’s help. Well, little did I know, I wouldn’t need too much extra help. I raised nearly the full 3k on my own within a month, which got the wheels turning in my head regarding Chicago, and I became curious if I could a.) fit it in my schedule, and b.) figure out how to raise more money. I ran the idea (pun intended) by Lydia, and the rest is history! I am excited to head to Chicago in less than 2 weeks and NY in about a month with my friend by my side. [Jonathan ran the Chicago Marathon with NF Endurance on October 9, 2022.]

What gave you the idea to run three marathons in one calendar year?

I am getting older (40 this year!) and I wanted to do something big. I have run the LA Marathon for 9 years in a row I believe it was, and had a couple short triathlons on the calendar this year, but since I am crazy, that wasn’t big enough. I figured I would try to get into the major US races (not fast enough to qualify) or possibly do a half iron man (not in full Iron man shape), so when NYC came along and worked out, I jumped on the opportunity. That was big enough for me originally, LA to NYC in the same year was pretty cool to a runner like me… but little did I know there was more. When Chicago became a very real possibility, I asked my wife and jumped at the chance when she said I should go for it.

So, LA in March, Chicago in October, and NYC in November sounded like the BIG year I was looking for, and I even sprinkled in a small hometown race (Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in Ventura, CA) for giggles. I ended up running that in June, I think it was, and found out the next day that I had run it with COVID. I didn’t feel great, but also didn’t feel bad so I didn’t think to be tested, but when work called me the next day and mentioned I could have been exposed I decided to check and it came back positive. That explained my sluggish performance that day, and I felt the worst for the people I ran it with but there wasn’t much I could have done at that point. This fall has been a whirlwind of races, and I am only just past halfway. I do really enjoy the journey, so running all of these and my triathlons a couple weekends ago has been an awesome and rewarding experience for me!

What’s the hardest part of training? What keeps you going?

Definitely TIME MANAGEMENT. I work at the Arena which is one of the busiest buildings in the US, and have a 4- and 6-year-old at home who have more energy than we know what to do with, plus also have to make sure the wifey is loved and well cared for… which makes “squeezing in” a long 2-3+ hour run in, among all of the smaller training runs, a bit of a trick. I typically get up before the sun to get these in, and try to be up front and transparent with what I need to get done to stay with my training plan. It is these same 3 people that keep me going, though. I have some little eyes looking up at me each day, watching me stay disciplined and get everything that I need to get done, done. I can’t let them down, and I want to show them that anything is possible, no matter how busy or tired you may feel, you can do anything you set your mind to.

I also find myself motivated by the support I get from friends and acquaintances on social media and in everyday life, and the encouraging comments and messages always help me out. I tell the story often of how I hated running as a kid and young adult, but that it pretty much saved me when I found out that my mom had stage 4 kidney cancer.

Running became my outlet, and the way I could be alone with my thoughts and get whatever “bad energy” I needed to get rid of out in a healthy way. Too many times we see people, males especially, deal with their health and mental struggles that come along with news like this in a “negative” way, and I wanted to make sure to funnel all of the pent-up emotions I was experiencing in a positive and healthy way. I used this time to keep myself in shape, be alone with my thoughts to process some things I needed to mentally, and to exhaust my body and mind and pretty much “clear it all out” so I would be ready for the next thing. Some runs were happy runs, some were spent almost entirely crying… I am sure I looked crazy, but this helped me stay away from the “crazy,” I think at least, and became a habit.

When my mom passed in 2013 I made a promise to myself that I would continue with the “healthy avenues” of stress relief, and be a beacon of light and hope to others that may be experiencing the trauma that I went through. I wanted to be an example, not a sad story.

What’s a great piece of running advice that you received?

I am kind of a “lone” runner. I like to be alone, and to be by myself when training, so I can go at my own pace and feel like I can be free to think and feel what I want to, and I don’t have to entertain. Somewhere along the way I realized that running with others was sometimes healthy, and it would give me a different push that running alone couldn’t do. I noticed my “race” times were much faster than my training times, so I tried to mix in some group or partner runs in my training from time to time.

Some great advice I received was to continue to run and continue to tell my story. Tell it to anyone who would listen because it may have been just the person that needed to hear what I had to say.

One major piece of advice that I live by and that keeps me going though is that you have to “love the journey,” sometimes even more than the end result. I truly do love the journey, and am often looking for the next journey when one is about to end.

I also live by the “every finish line is just another start line to the next adventure” but I like to jump into my start lines sometimes before I even get to the finish line of the adventure before… if you couldn’t already tell 🙂

Visit for a schedule of upcoming NF Endurance races.