Among the nearly 40,000 runners expected to pound Pittsburgh’s streets on May 5, two marathoners are racing with heavy hearts. Matt Scoletti and Zev Rosenberg are each dedicating their 26.2 mile journeys to honor the 11 victims killed on Oct. 27.
For Scoletti, a lifelong Pittsburgher, the decision to complete the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon was driven by the horrific events at the Tree of Life building.
“When something as tragic and terrible as that happens, not only in your city, but somewhere where you frequent and you know that area … and then all of a sudden you start hearing people who knew people who were in the community and just to have it be that real, and that close to home, for me I was like, ‘OK, I gotta do something because this is my town. This is where I’m from and I got to stand up for love.’”
Scoletti, 35, is a motivational speaker who is drawn to endurance events, but although he has traveled to Australia to bike 250 miles in 24 hours, completed several Tough Mudder runs and competed on “American Ninja Warrior,” he’s never run a marathon.
With everything that happened, “it just seemed like the right time for me to combine my love for fitness, my love for the city and the mission of love: that love conquers hate,” he said.
Runners are notoriously picky about their dress, and in an effort to propagate a message of love, Scoletti plans on making a fashion statement. With each step of his 26.2 mile trek, Scoletti will wear the same item he has been training in: an 11-pound weighted vest.
“Every time I put that weight vest on — it happens every single time, which has been 20 or 30 times I put it on — I think about the 11 people that were killed, I think about their families, I think about the Tree of Life community, typically to the point of tears, and that’s the emotion I’m feeling before I start running.” Knowing that he is raising “awareness of the love-conquers-hate story helps me run distances that I never thought I would.”
Scoletti is not the only runner seeking to inspire others on race day. Zev Rosenberg, 57, is traveling from Edison, N.J., to run “in memory of those who can’t,” he said. Pittsburgh will be Rosenberg’s 14th marathon. He typically runs two races per year: one in the spring and another in the fall. Shortly after he finished his last marathon, he was deciding which one to tackle next. The Tree of Life attacks had just occurred, and Rosenberg turned to his wife and said, “People were massacred there and we are going to show some support. May 5 is right between Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron and I am going to try and raise awareness about remembering the people that were murdered.”
“I want to make sure that those memories are preserved and I want to raise awareness and respect for the first responders, especially those who were injured,” Rosenberg said. “I don’t know who they were but I know that it’s a hard job: It has a ripple effect. It affects the families. It affects the communities and it affects me.”
Rosenberg is an IDF veteran, an IDF parent and the son of a Marine Corps veteran. He said he appreciates the sacrifices made by veterans and their families, and he understands the profound loss tragedy imparts.
Rosenberg recalled how on Nov. 18, 2014, two Palestinian men entered Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue, in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood. As services occurred, the two terrorists attacked congregants with axes, knives and a gun. Ultimately, five civilians and a police officer were killed.
“I have a friend who was murdered in the Har Nof massacre and every time something like this happens, it is extraordinarily painful. I know the devastation it causes to all of these families and communities,” he said.
Rosenberg runs with the emotional weight of loss. He also carries the realization that he has achieved the incredible. In 2013, he suffered a severe spinal injury that paralyzed him from the neck down. Rosenberg worked tirelessly to recover, and he attributes his rehabilitation to multiple factors, including his belief that “I didn’t want to teach my kids a lesson that when things go bad, you give up. That’s a bad lesson.”
Rosenberg’s upcoming run, as challenging as it will be, is in gratitude to those who have helped him reach this point.
“There were so many people who were involved in trying to get me as well as I can possibly be. They did things for the family. There was a whole medical crew, from first responders to people that came to take me to the hospital, the surgeons, the physical therapists, all the doctors involved, the physiatrists, they all just wanted me to get better.”
Stories like Scoletti’s and Rosenberg’s are part of the marathon’s fabric, explained Patrice Matamoros, race director and CEO. “Running is an equalizer,” she said. “It’s an incredible way to bring people together for good.”
Matamoros will step down from her post on June 30. Saying goodbye to the marathon will be challenging, she explained.
“When I hear stories about the Matts and Zevs, the pretty amazing people putting their running to a purpose higher than themselves, working through something very difficult to give people hope, it is what I absolutely love about the job and what I will absolutely miss.”
She said she has heard of others who will also be running this year’s race in memory of the 11 victims at Tree of Life.
“I am so enamored and amazed by what they are doing, and so humbled to be part of something really special and positive,” she said. “And I want them to know that we are there for them. We are putting in really long hours and it is all worth it. They help our team go, and we will be cheering for them the loudest and the proudest at the finish line.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.