By Mike Pearson, News staff
When Vince Rigitano books a vacation, a sunny beach is the least of his concerns.
If it doesn’t include a marathon, then it’s not a real vacation. Rigitano, a 60-year-old Stoney Creek resident has conquered the Boston Marathon on multiple occasions. Later this month he will make his first appearance in Germany’s oldest event, the Frankfurt Marathon.
“When I go somewhere, I make it a vacation and run at the same time,” Rigitano said. “Rather than lie down on a beach like a lot of people, I like to include a marathon wherever I go.”
Rigitano was an avid runner as a teenager in the Calabria region of Southern Italy. His specialty was the 1,500 metres. His goal was to compete at the highest level possible, ideally in the Olympics.
But Rigitano’s dreams were put on hold when he was forced to leave school to help support a family of eight children. He immigrated to Germany, where he lived for two years, before coming to Canada.
Today Rigitano finally has the chance to do what he loves. Along with physical fitness, stress release and social interaction, his biggest satisfaction is introducing the sport to new followers.
Instead of loitering on street corners or playing video games, Rigitano hopes to show the younger generation the benefits of running as well.
“I want to eventually inspire more people to run, or participate in sports, and maybe, raise money for a sports centre,” Rigitano said.
As he looks ahead to retirement, Rigitano plans to stay busy by running. The sport keeps him motivated and goal oriented. Along with Boston and Frankfurt, he’d like to run a marathon in Rome as well.
“I’d like to continue as long as my legs can do it,” said Rigitano.
Friends and family describe Rigitano as a natural runner. But the strength and endurance needed to run a full marathon came only after several months of intense training.
Before he turned 50, Rigitano had never run a marathon. He stayed in shape by jogging and playing soccer.
With a goal of running in the annual Around the Bay Road Race, Rigitano signed up at Family Fitness and met a trainer who was willing to help him get race-ready. His trainer told him to start small, with a five-kilometre race, followed by a 10-k, half marathon and finally, a full marathon.
As soon as he started racing, Rigitano was consistently placing among the top 10 for his age group in various races.
His first marathon came in Ottawa. After 30 kilometres, his body was ready to give up. But his mind kept him moving.
“In running, it’s mind over matter,” said Rigitano. “When your body gives up, your mind has to take its place.”
He finished that race in three hours and 27 minutes, which allowed him to qualify for Boston. Including this year, he’s now run the Beantown course five times.
At the 30-kilometre mark, Rigitano became increasingly fatigued, but also panicked. He knew he needed a time of 3:35 to qualify for Boston.
When the race was over, he felt like the happiest man in the world.
Rigitano trains hard for about four months leading up to a marathon. He runs between 60 and 70 kilometres each week. His favourite long run stretches from his Dewitt Road neighbourhood all the way to Guelph Line and back. Over the course of a decade, Rigitano has lowered his personal best marathon time to three hours and eight minutes.
With his trip to Frankfurt on the horizon, Rigitano is tapering down on his training to let his muscles relax and his body heal.
When Rigitano runs a race, he often enjoys an opportunity to see family as well. He has two sisters in Boston, plus family members in Italy and Germany.
It was a visit to Frankfurt a few years ago that first sparked an interest in the German event. While driving with his sister, he saw the marathon in progress and vowed to return one day as a participant.
Rigitano will be there later this month, among 15,000 runners, with family cheering him on. The event finishes in front of a stadium crowd, creating a very Olympic-like atmosphere.
Not all of Rigitano’s marathon experiences have been positive. As anyone who follows the news would know, last year’s Boston Marathon ended abruptly when two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 250 others.
The first blast came about 30 minutes after Rigitano crossed the finish line. At the time, Rigitano was reeling from the physical toll of the race, but also basking in his accomplishment. Once again, he had finished in the upper echelon of his age group.
“I was just 500 metres away when that happened,” Rigitano recalled. “I didn’t see the explosion but I heard a big blast.
His wife and sister were waiting in the area where the first explosion occurred, but had luckily moved away in the nick of time.
To Rigitano, the blast sounded like a tractor-trailer smashing into a building. Moments later, he heard the second explosion, followed by screaming and the news that there had been a terrorist attack. While walking away from the chaos, Rigitano and his family saw the events splashed across TV screens in a storefront. His sister urged the family to move away from the area. They tried to board the subway, only to find crowds of people fleeing in the opposite direction. Amid a steady stream of emergency vehicles, Rigitano walked another two kilometres to a safer subway station.
Within minutes he received calls from family members in Italy and Germany to confirm everyone was okay.
Undeterred, by last April’s events, Rigitano has already signed up for Boston next year. The event sells out quickly, and he’s determined to return. He knows it’s going to be an emotional time for everyone.
“If you stop doing what you love doing, you let those terrorists win the battle,” he said. “I’d like to show that we’re not going to give up our dreams.”