So many moments make up a marathon. All uniquely personal, but when looked at together they truly embody what it means to #BeBoston. Help Eric reach his fundraising goals and make it his moment.
Eric Croci will be running through his memories on Marathon Monday, reliving moments that shaped his dreams of running the iconic Boston Marathon.
Growing up in Massachusetts meant that each year, on the third Monday in April, we had no school to celebrate Patriots Day. But, with a mom from Braintree and a dad from Framingham, growing up in Massachusetts meant that each year, on the third Monday in April, we had no school to celebrate the Boston Marathon.
Each Marathon Monday, my parents would load my sister, my brother and me into the minivan and make the drive from East Longmeadow to my grandparents’ house in Framingham. The day started with a game of tag with my cousins, chasing after each other until we got the call to come inside and watch the start of the race on TV. Once the starting gun went off, so did we. We made the half mile trek, which at the time felt like a marathon in itself, down to Framingham Bakery to meet with even more family and friends and wait for the runners.
We watched the wheelchair racers fly by, kept a lookout for Dick and Rick Hoyt, and cheered on the Elite Women and Men before spending hours handing out waters and oranges to the qualifying runners. Once us kids started complaining about being tired and hungry (it takes A LOT of energy to give out high fives all day), our group would go over to La Cantina restaurant for a delicious Italian dinner. There we would find out if the Red Sox won and load up on Fanny’s salad dressing before packing up to head home. Those days were filled with moments that I’ll remember forever.
Looking back on those years, what always stuck with me was the energy and excitement of the crowd and the incredible dedication of those runners. In the back of my mind, I knew early on that I wanted to run a marathon someday, but I didn’t want to run just any marathon…I wanted to run Boston. Since I had never run a marathon before, or even run more than five miles, I knew my hopes of qualifying and running with the Elite Men might have been a bit farfetched. I set out to find a charity team that would take a chance on me, but for years I felt like I didn’t have a strong enough personal connection to be worthy of selection. It wasn’t until last year, and unfortunately for the wrong reasons, that I discovered The Herren Project.
The Herren Project (THP) was founded in 2011 by Chris Herren, a former NBA basketball player whose struggle with addiction ended his playing career and nearly his life. THP provides treatment navigation, mentoring and recovery coaching, online support groups, and preventative education in order to reach one person, one family, one community at a time. To date, THP has assisted over 1,200 families and individuals through treatment navigation and has reached over 400,000 people nationwide through their preventative education speaker series.
The Herren Project hit close to home for me because of my cousin Jeff, who struggled with addiction starting in his late teens. Being 12 years younger than him, I didn’t fully understand what addiction meant. 10-year-old me simply wondered why he didn’t just stop drinking or doing drugs. It couldn’t be that hard, could it? I saw Jeff at family gatherings and holidays, and he seemed perfectly fine to me on the outside, but what I didn’t understand was how much Jeff was struggling on the inside. I never really knew the toll this disease of addiction took on Jeff’s parents, siblings, and 8-year-old daughter until it was too late.
On September 13, 2015, Jeff overdosed and passed away at the age of 36. My family feels this loss at poignant moments and at every day moments; a hole is left at every birthday party, every holiday, and every trip to Cape Cod. Jeff’s obituary read, “It was so important for him to be there to support and encourage fellow addicts. If Jeff could pass along any message right now it would be to learn that help is available and not to wait. Time is a precious thing and can be taken away too soon.” I took this message to heart, and wanted to turn his passing into something positive. Reading about The Herren Project’s mission to provide assistance to those suffering from addiction in taking the first steps toward recovery truly resonated with me because it mirrored Jeff’s own goals.
On September 13, 2016, exactly one year after my cousin overdosed, I applied to The Herren Project to run the 2017 Boston Marathon. To my surprise, I was accepted! Now came the fun part…actually training for a marathon. When I first started running back in September, I could only go a couple miles before I got tired. Uh oh…maybe I set the bar a bit too high and should have applied for a 5K instead? Not being a long-distance runner, or even a runner at all, my favorite moments so far have been pushing myself through longer and longer runs. In mid-January I ran my first half-marathon, but the millennial in me was disappointed to find out there wasn’t a medal waiting for me when I got back to my apartment. On my long runs if I ever feel like giving up, I think about Jeff and the families THP will be able to help. The adrenaline takes over and I keep pushing through any tiredness or pain.
While it will be hard to beat the feeling of crossing the finish line on Boylston Street and finally getting a medal placed around my neck, I’m most looking forward to running the streets of Framingham where I watched the race as a child. Running past La Cantina’s restaurant (I might have to order some chicken parmesan to go…), seeing the Framingham Bakery where we used to watch the race, and passing Bethany Road that leads to my grandparents’ old house on Coburn Street will be very special moments for me.
Completing the 2017 Boston Marathon will realize a lifelong goal of mine, but more importantly being able to run in Jeff’s memory and raise money for The Herren Project means I can carry out Jeff’s message to help others overcome their challenges with addiction. It may be too late to help my cousin, but it’s not too late to help others.