RACINE COUNTY — Michelle Zerzanek has had no reservations about participating in the Boston Marathon this year.
Even though she finished the marathon last year and was only two blocks away from the finish line when two bombs exploded, killing three people and wounding more than 260 others — the 32-year-old teacher and runner of 20 years said she felt that she needed to return and run it this year.
So confident in herself and City of Boston’s security, Zerzanek, of Racine, is running today’s marathon while 19 weeks pregnant. Her fiancé will be watching from the sidelines.
“I felt like I had to come back,” she said Saturday afternoon by phone after landing in Boston. “My last memory of the Boston Marathon would have been overshadowed by something horrible and tragic. Now, I’m looking to replace those memories with something joyful and triumphant.”
Zerzanek is one of six Racine County residents joining about 36,000 other runners for the 118th Boston Marathon, according to the website of Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the marathon.
“The energy in Boston is amazing,” she said. “I don’t regret it for a second.”
Between Zerzanek, a seventh-grade science teacher at Gilmore Middle School, and fellow participant Mary Jantz, 35, of Mount Pleasant, the competition was less important than being a part of the community reclaiming the event from the tragedy of last year’s race.
“I just can’t wait to get there and absorb it all,” she said Saturday, anticipating her Sunday arrival in Boston. “I get to be a part of the community, of the city coming together again for a long-standing tradition.”
“To be able to be a part of that is pretty special.”
Formerly a kindergarten teacher, Jantz is a full-time student of nursing at Gateway Technical College and parent of three young children.
Although her studies, family and running leave her little time for anything else, she said running keeps her healthy and happy. Referring to the sport as the “glue” that holds her busy schedule together. Jantz noted that running has become more important now that she has less time to train.
“Running has been a part of me ever since I was 11,” she said. “Now as an adult it’s still so much a part of who I am ... I feel like it’s in my DNA.”
Jantz qualified to participate in the Boston Marathon in 2012, but scrapped those plans when she found out she was pregnant and then sustained injuries that would keep her from running.
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She said the bombings at last year’s marathon made participating in this year’s event much more meaningful than any other year would have been,
“After it happened last year, I couldn’t stop thinking about it; I still can’t stop thinking about it,” Jantz said. “I knew that even though it’s been on my bucket list my whole life, being able to qualify and go this year is more important than anything.”
Although she is also not afraid to participate this year, Jantz said she is just going to Boston with her father, keeping her three children at home with her husband to watch the marathon on television.
Both Jantz and Zerzanek said running a personal record marathon is less important this year than just soaking up the experience and being part of the Boston Marathon community.
“It’s less about my personal goals and more about being part of the community,” she said. “Last year I was running to see how I can compete; now I want to take my time and enjoy.”
Racine County residents running the 118th Boston Marathon
Mike Biex, 39, of Caledonia
Christopher J. Cremer, 47, of Racine
Caryn Herrick, 23, of Wind Lake
Mary E. Jantz, 35, of Mount Pleasant
Pam M. Norris, 41, of Racine
James F. Tierney, 64, of Franksville
Michelle M. Zerzanek, 32, of Racine