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Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

Beyond Mile 21: Nick Zelano, Hometown Hero

Nick Zelano turns 21 two days before he runs the Boston Marathon. He won’t be going out that night—instead, he’ll wait to celebrate until after he runs the longest continuous distance of his life.

But getting to cross the finish line on Boylston Street is worth the wait.

“If I was going to run a marathon, it had to be Boston,” he said. “I had no interest in doing it anywhere else, to be honest.”

Although his $7,500 fundraising commitment to the Lowell-based Durkin Foundation would suggest otherwise, Zelano didn’t have a charity in mind when he finally decided to make good on his goal of running the Boston Marathon.

“It’s very competitive, looking for charities. A lot of them want you to raise over $10,000.”

Abroad in Glasgow and struggling to find an organization that struck a chord, he had almost given up on running in 2018 when his sister’s best friend from college, who ran the marathon in 2016, contacted him and asked if he’d like to run for his family’s foundation.

“It all kinda fell into place when he asked me,” he said. “I was happy because it was Boston, obviously. That’s how they hooked me.”

The Durkin Foundation was started in 2017, providing financial support and care to individuals and families struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease, intellectual disabilities, and caring for U.S. war veterans.

Zelano reels off these three causes with ease, pulling out a purple brochure from his backpack.

“I carry like, thousands of these wherever I go.”

He recounts the reason behind each of the three, seasoned from his time on the fundraising path.

The Durkin family chose Alzheimer’s to honor their grandmother, Claire, who passed away from the disease in 2016. The grandfather, Brendan, was a decorated World War II veteran. Their support for families caring for children with intellectual disabilities comes from Patty, one of Brendan and Claire’s seven children, who was born with Down Syndrome.

He’s making good progress towards his goal with the help of family, friends, and local businesses back in his hometown of Beverly, Massachusetts. Living so close to Boston and having such a strong support network in Beverly has been essential to his fundraising progress.

"I'm obsessed with my hometown," he laughs. "Big hometown guy."

Businesses have donated raffle prizes, his family has helped plan and throw a fundraising dinner, and friends have given towards his goal.

He says that his fundraising is easier because the Durkin Foundation covers such a wide array of causes. Almost anyone has a connection to at least one—a family member with Alzheimer’s, a friend’s kid with Down Syndrome, a grandparent who fought in a war. But just because people are eager to donate doesn’t mean raising $7,500 is a cake walk.

“The fundraising is way harder than the training,” says Zelano. “But raising the money, getting actual checks for these causes always makes me so happy.”

Zelano is no stranger to working for a cause. At BC, he volunteers with the Campus School’s Creative Kids program. He’s gone on spring break with the Appalachia Volunteers three years in a row to Charlotte, Detroit, and Los Angeles, respectively.

At home, he works at the Danvers Animal Hospital. Once he graduates, if everything goes well, he’ll head to veterinary school to continue serving a population he loves.

“I’m obsessed with animals,” Zelano laughs. “That’s pretty much all you need to know about me.”

In the fall of 2017, Zelano was forced to start his training in Scotland along the River Clyde, running whenever he felt like it, or whenever he wasn’t traveling around Europe. Since coming back to the States, his routine has ramped up in intensity and distance. Now, he runs five or six miles four times a week in addition to a Sunday long run that gets one mile longer each week.

Prior to Marathon Monday, the most Zelano will have run at once will be 22 miles, about a month out from the race. He’s used to the course, having trained on it for months—first going backwards on his way out, then running the right direction once he turns around to come back to BC.

“I’m nervous about Heartbreak Hill, obviously, but also for running past BC,” he admits. “I’m pretty shy, I don’t want a lot of people watching me run.”

He may not want it, but Zelano will have a solid fanbase along the course on April 16. His family will be split between the finish and points farther back. His BC friends will be waiting at Mile 21, tracking him the whole way. He even has friends from home, who go to other schools in Boston, stationed along the route.

But Zelano plans to block it all out, running to whatever music strikes him as fitting that day.

“It could be anything from EDM to country,” said Zelano. “Sometimes I listen to the same song for 18 miles.”

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Happiest during baseball season, while thinking about goats, and when a Pitbull song comes on in the club.