EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story features two area natives who will be running in Monday's Boston Marathon. If there are other participants who hail from Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties who would like to share their Boston Marathon experiences, we'd love to hear from you. You can do so by contacting sportswriter Jay Young at the email address below.
By Jay Young
Lakewood native Jack Brunecz, seen crossing the finish line at the Lucy Town Half-Marathon in Jamestown last October, will be running in his second Boston Marathon on Monday.
P-J file photo by Scott Kindberg
At least two area natives will be lined up for the Boston Marathon on Monday, but for different reasons.
Jack Brunecz of Fayetteville, N.C., formerly of Lakewood, ran the fourth full marathon of his career on Patriot's Day in 2012 under some of the most brutal conditions in the 117-year history of world's most popular marathon.
See RUN, Page B2
Temperatures touching close to 90 degrees forced mass medical-withdrawls, even from some of the elite runners in the field.
Brunecz crossed the finish line in a personal-best time of 2:56:34 despite the savage heat, the same line that would be the site of an unspeakable tragedy just one year later.
A former cross country and track star for the Southwestern Trojans, Brunecz, by the grace of fate, was not at the Boston Marathon in 2013 - but he will be lacing up his shoes on Monday.
Along side him will be Ashville native, Chautauqua Lake Central School graduate and military veteran Matt Levesque, who will be competing in his first-ever full marathon for the Cops For Kids With Cancer charity.
While both men have led different paths to the starting line, they both will be running to honor others at this year's Boston Marathon.
Brunecz, a 30-year-old Fredonia State graduate, would not have missed this year's race for anything and will take to the streets of Boston for the second time along with Levesque and more than 30,000 other runners to commemorate the history of the storied marathon as well as honor the memory of the victims a year removed.
"I didn't even think for a second," said Brunecz of his reaction to the tragedy. ''I told my wife that I am doing that race next year."
After considering the cost of attending the race, the necessary training regiment and the hassle of scheduling a trip to Boston, Brunecz decided not to return to the event last year after finding success in 2012.
But even in the safety of his own home in Fayetteville, Brunecz felt the terror that ripped through the city on that fateful day.
"I heard about (the tragedy) later in the day and when I heard it I had to get online and see it for myself because it was just so hard to believe that something like that could happen at the race on Patriot's Day," he recalled. "When I saw the videos my heart just fell in my stomach. I noticed that when the second bomb went off that was where my family was standing the year before. I just remember that (night) when we were blessing the food for dinner, it was impossible to get any words out."
While Brunecz and millions of others around the world struggled to make sense of what happened, many thoughts immediately turned to catharsis.
While the dust was still settling in Boston, runners of all walks of life from across the globe made their plans for April of 2014.
They intended to return to the historic race, undeterred by the senseless violence.
Much like Brunecz, Levesque made his decision to run in this year's marathon during the chaotic hours following the Boston bombings.
"I was actually in our breakroom at work and just like anyone else I was shocked,'' the 27-year-old U.S. Navy veteran said. ''Whether you are a runner or not, you know what the Boston Marathon is. It is so much more than a running event. To see somebody attack there is just really beyond words. You just ask, 'Why?'"
In fact, so many people will be entering the marathon that the Boston Athletic Association is anticipating near-record numbers for this year's race.
"I do know that because of the situation they are going to allow quite a few more entries - 36,000 people can race this year," said Brunecz.
It may come as a surprise to some people that Brunecz and Levesque were eager to book their flights to Boston after witnessing what happened in 2013, but for each of them the decision seemed predestined.
While still a student at Fredonia State, Brunecz fell away from the running world after a coaching change and didn't pick up the interest again until 2009. His journey back to to the world of competition will come full circle when he takes to the starting line on Monday.
For Levesque, the Boston marathon will be his first full-length race.
"I had told my co-workers that I ran in college and that I wanted to give it another shot,'' Brunecz said. ''I ran my first half-marathon in Myrtle Beach (S.C.); I went there on a weekend getaway with some friends who had got me interested in running again,"
Since that race, the former Trojan has rediscovered his passion for the sport, which came to a head when he finished the race in Boston in 2012.
"Before my first (Boston) marathon two years ago, I thought that the training was ridiculous,'' he said. ''It was on my bucket list to run the Boston Marathon and just coming around that final turn, it gave me goosebumps. That was one of my biggest runner's highs ever. I ran a personal best and said this was an amazing experience."
You have to think that this year will mean something even greater for Brunecz.
On the other hand, Levasque will have his first chance to feel the goosebumps that accompany a walk up to the starting line.
"I think it is going to be an experience, just camaraderie coming together,'' he said. ''On any given year, it is a huge event, but this year it will be something else. I'm sure it will be running very high.''
Despite their differences, both men are putting themselves through the grueling 26.2-mile course as a way of helping others - and you can bet that they won't be the only ones.
On Monday, Brunecz will be adorned with a jersey from Wear Blue: Run to Remember, an organization and running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military.
"I thought that with everything that happened last year it would be appropriate to run for them," he said. "I definitely can see the (coming) emotion already. I can see it hitting me before the race. The chills will hit with what I am running the race for and dedicating it to, especially seeing everyone around me."
Levasque will be making the journey to honor his chosen cause, the Cops For Kids With Cancer Foundation.
To be sure, there will be some tears falling on the pavement in Boston this year, but for the right reasons.