Marathon #34 – 26.2 for Rocco
Not sure how to even start this story or how to describe the meaning behind this marathon. Rocco has been running with Team Challenge for quite some time and in a few short months he will be running his 7th half marathon, all with Team Challenge and all while raising a lot of money for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
I didn’t ask Rocco for his story and he doesn’t know I’m doing this marathon for him. I wanted to tell you Rocco’s story from my perspective, from a friend’s point of view, something a little different than the usual way the stories are shared.
I actually first met Rocco in Brockton at a non-TC mid-week road race many years back. I remember it pretty clearly because he showed up wearing sneakers with the brightest orange shoelaces I’d ever seen. The thing that really stood out about those laces was the fact that they didn’t at all go with his sneakers color scheme. His sneakers didn’t have any orange on them and that neon orange actually clashed quite a bit. When I asked about his laces he told me, with the biggest display of pride, that he got them from being involved with Team Challenge and for raising a lot of money for the foundation. The shoe laces were given to him to wear with pride and help raise awareness, and believe me he was pretty darn proud.
You see, what I didn’t know at the time, but quickly became aware of was that Rocco is a Team Challenge Rock Star and that is true to this day. I have never met someone so friendly, not just to me, but to anyone. He is genuinely one of the nicest people I’ve ever met!
I also learned that Rocco himself has Crohn’s Disease and has had it for almost 30 years now. He is 54 and his body has been fighting this disease for practically his whole life. I can also tell you that in January of 2015 Rocco has part of his colon removed in order to help him manage his illness. It was a long road back from recovery yet he fought like he always does and was back running with his Team Challenge family at the end of the year completing yet another half marathon. Like I said, he is a rock star!
Rocco truly is the first person to help when someone is struggling with running, with their own IBD or really when they are dealing with any setback or rough patch in life. He will call or text and even when you see him in person again he’ll take time to ask how you are doing. The best thing about it is that he means it when he asks and there is a ton of love and care behind it every time.
The thing is, when you know Rocco and you are friends with him, you’ll be a better person because of it. Having a friend like Rocco in your life is special, people like him are rare and everyone deserves that kind of friend. He is really more than a friend though, he is family, he is Team Challenge family!
During the 2018 Team Challenge season Rocco ran the New Orleans Half Marathon with us, the New England Team, and this one was a little different than the previous races he’s run. Rocco told us that his son Nick was going to be joining us, running the half marathon with him. Nick was coming to many of the Saturday group trainings along with his dad, and run the half marathon. Rocco had talked a lot about Nick over the years so many of us felt like we already knew him before we ran with him on most Saturdays that season.
It was great talking to Nick and hearing just how proud and impressed he was of his dad. He was able to see firsthand, after hearing about it for many years I’m sure, what the Team Challenge experience is all about. He immediately became a part of the TC family and we were happy to welcome him with open arms.
The day before the actual half marathon, at the team meeting in New Orleans, we went around the room, person by person, taking about our feelings. We each talked about why we were doing this and what it means to us. When it became Rocco’s turn to speak he barely got out one sentence before breaking down. I know it is always really emotional for Rocco to run every half marathon he runs while wearing that Team Challenge logo on his chest. To have his son here with him made this particular half marathon very meaningful for him. It was also very heartwarming to hear Nick speak about his dad and why he was here, with all of us, doing this race for him and ultimately for the rest of us too.
This next part is hard to write…
When you lose a loved one, it is hard. When you lose a loved one unexpectedly and way too soon, there are no words to accurately describe what that is like. Just over a month ago Rocco and his family unfortunately, and tragically, lost Nick in a car accident. Heartbreaking just doesn’t seem a strong enough word to describe this lose.
Not surprisingly Rocco had already signed up to run Key West with the Team Challenge New England team. He had already started fundraising and running as well as being the supportive and amazing teammate he always is. Obviously this season just got a lot harder for Rocco and the support he so willingly gives, needed to come back to him tenfold. Our New England found out about Nick and each of us felt like we took a punch to the gut, not in the IBD kind of way; it was different but still unwanted. Group Training runs are always on Saturday mornings and a week after Nick’s passing Team Challenge spent that particular Saturday morning not running. We attended a service to support one of our own and to remember an 18 year old kid who was just starting his life as an adult.
Rocco is still running this season and will be crossing that finish line in Key West with his Team Challenge family. Running on Saturday mornings during the group trainings are going to help. With Rocco, we will cry, we will laugh and we will heal. I want to say we will remember Nick, but Rocco is never going to forget about him and neither will we, so it’s better to say he’ll never be forgotten. We will run with Rocco in honor of his son and as one of our teammates so accurately said, we are forever grateful that Rocco shared his amazing son with our TC family in New Orleans last year.
As I run this marathon I will be thinking about Nick knowing he is cheering me on and supporting this whole 26.2 For You journey. I am running to help get cures for so many, including Nick’s dad. Rocco, love you friend. Your TC family loves you and is here for you. This 26.2 is for you!
Running 26.2 for Rocco!
Marathon 34 – Recap