Photography by Ryan Gibson
Some locals say Robert Espinoza is the most powerful man in Savannah—a kingpin of sorts. but after his recent brush with death, some might even call him downright indestructible. “When I moved here from Austin, [Texas], I said I’d like to bring three things with me: Whole Foods, Sandra Bullock and an ultra-marathon,” says local running guru Robert Espinoza.
That was in 2001. Now 12 years later, Savannah can proudly claim all of those things. Admittedly, he had more to do with bringing some of those things here than others. But in the end, he still got his way and can’t help but smile at the idea that just maybe all his hopeful thinking made his dream come true. After all, he is used to making things happen. “My friend said to me the other day, ‘Robert, you might be the most powerful man in the city.’” He says this not at all for vanity’s sake; in fact, he genuinely laughs at the idea.
But the truth is, his friend might be on to something. The wrestler-turned-longtime-runner, now 52, does have a very distinct set of powers. However, they do not include summoning mega movie stars to the beaches of Tybee. Instead, he has the keen ability to get people—sometimes tens of thousands of people—together for a common goal. While he quickly dismisses the comment, it does point out a few things. First, that people are taking notice of the burgeoning running scene in Savannah, which greatly impacts the community both economically (the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon alone brings in over $30 million a year) and physically (local training groups report that more locals are running than ever before). And second, that many locals credit him for the sport’s surge.