Since one of his closest cousins committed suicide seven years ago, Haverhill resident Jeff Rubino felt he hadn't always been there for his family when they needed him.
But on Monday he put his body on the line in scorching heat to run the Boston Marathon in memory of his late cousin Christian Caldaroni.
"I saw this as an opportunity to step up and play a bigger role in representing my family, as well as keep the memory of my cousin Christian alive," Rubino said.
Rubino, 25, was urged to run the marathon by his cousin Nicole Costa. While running the past three Boston Marathons, Costa has raised $100,000 on behalf of Samaritans, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing suicide in Massachusetts. The Samaritans provide services such as counseling over the phone for people considering suicide. Costa raised that money with no help from Rubino, and Rubino decided this year it was his turn to lead.
Each year, Costa has been trying to get a different cousin to run the marathon on behalf of the Samaritans. Last year, Rubino's cousin Chuck Donnelly, also of Haverhill, ran the marathon.
Rubino played hockey for almost his entire life and regularly joked that he could skate better than he could walk. But after the help the Samaritans provided for Rubino and his family, he decided to take on this challenge off the ice.
"Seeing what the Samaritans did for his family, I knew that if I had a chance to repay them, I would in any way," Rubino said.
"I was trying to get other people in my family to represent us," Costa said. "He was definitely willing. He's a great guy and has been through a lot. He is somebody that was always an athlete, so I thought he might be up for the challenge.''
Rubino comes from a family with more than 40 cousins on his mother's side alone. Rubino developed one of his closest bonds with Caldaroni, even though he was six years older than Rubino.
"(Caldaroni) was a role model to me and the rest of my family," Rubino said. "He played a huge role in becoming the man I am today. He mentored me and was an older father-figure type, while steering me down the right road in life."
One can qualify for the Boston Marathon in one of two ways: By having an acceptable time or raising $5,000 to go to charity. Rubino applied and was selected to be one of 11 runners, including Costa, to represent the Samaritans. Raising the money needed to run was not an easy task.
"I had to pull out all the stops," Rubino said. "I wrote letters to people who I hadn't talked to in years. I talked to family members and my co-workers to help me out and many people were very generous to me."
Last month, Rubino and Costa held a raffle which pushed him past the $5,000 needed. The raffle raised almost $2,500 and friends donated Red Sox and Bruins tickets as well as other sports memorabilia.
To get in shape for the marathon, Rubino joined the Fitcorp training group in Boston. Rubino, along with other marathon runners, followed a specifically guided regimen including scheduled runs, to help them develop the stamina needed to run such a daunting race.
Rubino said he is usually not one to get nervous about things, but as the race got closer, his nerves started kicking in.
"I generally don't like to overanalyze things or get nervous," Rubino said before the race. "I like to just let things happen. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't having crazy dreams about Marathon Monday."
Rubino ended up being one of nine Haverhill finishers in the marathon on Monday, clocking in at a time of 4 hours, 21 minutes and 36 seconds
"The heat was crazy, like nothing else I'd ever experienced," Rubino said. "I tried to be smart about it. I didn't get the time I was hoping for, but I did the best that I could."
It was only the second road race that Rubino has participated in. Last September, he was in the Samaritans' annual 5K run in Brighton.