By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – When he was 10, Joe Rezuke’s family friend Britney Gengel died in the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. In 2013, on his 14th birthday, Rezuke was just blocks away from the bomb blasts that killed three at that year’s Boston Marathon.
Rezuke will draw on his personal connections to both of those tragedies when he lines up as one of the youngest runners in this year’s Boston Marathon – he will turn 18 just two days earlier.
“I’m not comparing myself to any other runner,” Rezuke insisted. “I’m just trying to finish. It’s not psyching me out that I’m the youngest one but it definitely is a cool accomplishment.”
A Shrewsbury native and a senior at St. John’s High School, Rezuke will run on behalf of Be Like Brit (BLB), a charity started by the Gengel family in 2010 after they lost their daughter. The charity funds and helps staff an orphanage for 66 Haitian children in one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake.
The Boston Athletic Association awarded BLB bibs for two charity runners in their flagship race this year. Upon filling out his application in November, Rezuke was accepted as one of those runners.
“They were very excited,” he said of the Gengel family and other BLB organizers. “They had their doubts thinking that I couldn’t really do it; they thought I was joking at first when I applied. But once they gave me spot and heard about all my times during runs, they were more than excited.”
Rezuke currently rises shortly after 5:30 a.m. each morning to go for a run around Shrewsbury. Depending on the length of his run, he also spends time in a gym doing cross training before his school day starts at 8:15 a.m.
In addition to participating in competitive swimming and soccer, Rezuke heads to Newton every Saturday to run with the Marathon Coalition, a group helping runners prepare for the marathon.
The marathon has always been a part of life for Rezuke and his family. But even though she expected her son to himself run at some point, Joe’s mother Janice Rezuke said she was surprised when he decided to sign up this year.
“I thought he would do it in college some time. I didn’t know that he would do it so early,” she said. “But the opportunity came up and we had talked about. We told him he really should apply.”
Even after earning the bib, Rezuke is conscious of the experiences in his life that drove him to toward the race before BLB gave him a chance to run.
He and his family were celebrating his 14th birthday four years ago when terrorists attacked the Marathon. The Rezukes had left Fenway Park shortly before the attack and were walking toward the finish line when the bombs exploded. They heard the noise and saw the smoke from the blasts. With the race stopped, they spent hours with runners stuck on Commonwealth Avenue, lending them their phones to call home and jackets to keep warm.
“It became something different and from then on,” Rezuke said. “I was thinking, ‘This means a lot, this has impacted me a little bit.’ [After that,] I thought it would be nice to run the Marathon.”
Before he does run, Rezuke must raise a minimum of $6,600 for BLB. He is collecting money primarily through an account on the website CrowdRise and recently surpassed his halfway mark for fundraising.
“It’s been amazing to see how many people have given,” he said. “There’s people who I haven’t even talked to in years who have donated good sums of money. As I go on, I need to think of new ideas to raise money but so far it’s been pretty good.”
Rezuke is accepting donations at www.crowdrise.com/joerezuke.