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Remembering Julia Rusinek, JE ’00

(Juliarun.org)

On Sun., Apr. 14, Cross Campus will be the site of the 14th annual Julia’s Run for Children, an event held each year to remember Julia Rusinek, JE ’00, who was between her junior and senior years at Yale when she died on July 15, 1999.  A small group of Julia’s friends and family started the Run as a way to celebrate two of Julia’s passions in life—running, and a commitment to helping children.

The first “Julia’s Run” (then known as the Julia Rusinek Memorial Run) in April 2000 was filled with people who knew and loved her.  Virtually everyone who participated in the Run in its first two years was connected to Julia in a very personal way, or at least was connected to someone who was connected to her.  

As Julia’s friends graduated, the nature of the event changed.  While a core group of friends and family returns to New Haven every year, the Run thrives now as part of the calendar for runners in Southern Connecticut.  It is organized and operated by the same race management team that puts on the New Haven Road Race each September, and this professional operation ensures that the Run will have a long and stable future in New Haven.  For those of us who have been to Julia’s Run every year, it has been amazing to watch it evolve, even though most participants now have no connection to the woman who inspired the event in the first place.

Each year, Julia’s family asks a close friend or family member to say a few words about Julia to the runners at the end of the event, to maintain a strong connection to Julia.  This year’s speaker will be my friend and classmate Dustin Brown, JE ’00, whose essay below captures certain aspects of Julia beautifully.

Whether or not you consider yourself a runner, we hope that you will join us on April 14 to celebrate Julia.  For more information about Julia and about the Run, please visit www.juliarun.org.

—Andrew E. Krause, JE ’00

***

On Apr. 14, a few hundred runners will climb Science Hill and run in memory of Julia Rusinek, JE ’00, the Yale College undergraduate—athlete, writer, and humanitarian—who died of an undetected heart condition the summer of 1999, weeks before her senior year.  They will start at Cross Campus and ascend past classrooms and laboratories, hooking a right downhill on Edwards and then left onto St. Ronan, until they finally loop through Edgerton Park and retrace their steps.

I know this route well:  the first time I ran any of it was with Julia herself.

We were Jonathan Edwards freshmen, living on Old Campus in identical suites stacked one atop the other. I was skinny and unathletic, eager to get into shape but clueless about how to go about it.  Julia was a quiet force, a gifted and dedicated athlete whose modesty prevented her from mentioning her near-dozen high school track records to her new friends in college.

One day in early spring, I ventured out and tried running on my own. I quit after five minutes when my legs, unimpressed with this vague goal of “fitness,” refused to attack Science Hill. Julia heard about my aborted run and offered to help me try again, running by my side. I accepted, and off we went.

It was exhilarating.  And Julia made it fun.  We ran vaguely toward East Rock, meandering along Temple and Whitney and traversing local streets I hadn’t seen before.  We covered some of the same ground runners will follow Apr. 14, but we turned around sooner and hewed closer to campus.  I have no idea how long we went, but it felt far—far enough to be a “run.”  I remember returning to the dorm, lingering outside to stretch in the sun, feeling alive and happy and grateful to Julia.

Sixteen years later, I’m still not much of a runner, but I do run.  Living temporarily in New Haven a couple years ago, I reacquainted myself with my college town in running shoes.  And I discovered something: my run with Julia, our epic jaunt along unexplored city streets, had been short.  Very short.  For Julia, the route we covered hardly qualified as a “distance,” and given our tortoise-like speed, it was only a step or two above a brisk walk.

Julia, however, never let on that it had been easy for her.  She ran not only with me but also for me.  I finished that run on a high, from endorphins, yes, but also from the exuberance that came with knowing I had run—and kept up—with Julia.  I had no clue to what extent Julia had slowed her pace and trimmed the course to suit me, because she didn’t want me to know.

That was Julia.  Julia’s way of giving was so generous you didn’t realize you were taking anything.  What she gave best was time—quality time.  When Julia was with you, she was so present.  She listened with her eyes—you would talk to Julia and look at her and know she was there with you.

Julia put everyone at ease.  Whether it was the warm empathy of her gaze or the soft comfort of her voice, something about Julia encouraged you to share things you otherwise wouldn’t.  Julia was the third person I “came out” to; she entered the room moments after I told my suitemates.  All I remember is Julia sitting alongside me on the couch and looking at me, into me, absorbing things I was finally saying for the first time.  Julia made that easy.

The night before Julia’s funeral, a friend remarked that Julia would always be 21 while the rest of us would grow up and grow older, evolving and maturing with age.  But the remarkable thing is that Julia at age 21 was so thoughtful and self-assured that my 35-year-old self is eager for the advice 21-year-old Julia would give.

I only ran with Julia that one time, but Julia and running will always be intertwined for me.  I began running as an adult to prepare for Julia’s Run back in 2005.  I would jog the half-mile loop around Washington Square Park in Manhattan, adding laps and building endurance until I was confident enough to escape the park’s perimeter.  I no longer had Julia by my side, but she was there all the same.  And she has stayed with me through the marathon I ran two years ago, a distance inconceivable to the college freshman who could barely run five minutes without Julia by his side.

Nearly 14 years after losing Julia, we all carry her with us—her strength and her kindness, but also her giggle and her spark.  We show photographs of Julia at our weddings and cry that she isn’t there to celebrate.  We think of her when we have children, when we experience loss, when we run.  When you’ve known someone like Julia, you don’t ever let go of her.

And many of us gather every year, in New Haven, to break a sweat and share memories but mainly to look ahead, as Julia would do.  Julia devoted much of her life to children, as a counselor with the Fresh Air Fund camp and through internships with the Children’s Defense Fund and Children’s Law Center.  The run that bears Julia’s name raises money for children’s organizations, most notably LEAP (Leadership, Education, Athletics in Partnership), the academic and social enrichment program for New Haven children and youth.

Julia continues to inspire, she continues to give, she continues to bring people together.  The bit of Julia we each carry with us makes us better listeners, stronger runners, and more compassionate humans.  She will be running alongside us on Apr. 14, just as she ran alongside me that spring day 16 years ago.  Julia has moved many people, and this race is our chance to move for her.

—Dustin Brown, JE ’00

 

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