Students band together to run for Rutgers veteran
Matt Georgi planned to run the 41st Annual 18 Mile Run on Long Beach Island Oct. 13 to raise money for student veterans — a cause dear to him, as both he and his father were student veterans at Rutgers.
On the morning of his 32nd birthday, Sept. 22, Georgi posted a link to his fundraising website, asking friends and family to donate, said Stephen G. Abel, director of Veteran and Military Programs and Services.
But later that morning, a heart attack took Georgi’s life.
Georgi completed his undergraduate courses at Rutgers and was scheduled to graduate cum laude this term. At a crowded viewing and memorial service for Georgi on Friday in his hometown Manahawkin, N.J., the University presented his family with a diploma.
Abel said Georgi’s father asked guests to send donations to his son’s cause, the Rutgers Emergency Grant and Scholarship Fund, in lieu of flowers. This gesture is indicative of a quality that defined Georgi: selflessness.
Patrick Munkacsy, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said after Georgi’s death, other veterans discussed how Georgi made this trait seem effortless. But in the past, Georgi told Munkacsy otherwise — he consciously made the decision to be a good person every day.
“Some of us sometimes get angry or selfish or whatever. He would take a minute and reflect and decide not to do that,” he said. “He didn’t have a gift for it, he just worked really hard at it. For me, that meant more and frankly hurt more when he was gone.”
Munkacsy noticed Georgi’s selflessness firsthand during his first year at Rutgers, which was an especially difficult period in his life. Georgi always offered to grab lunch or coffee with Munkacsy with the sole purpose of being there for him.
Hometown friend Megan Magis had a similar experience. When she met Georgi in high school, the two discovered both of their fathers had heart problems.
“I would kind of run to him in a way, and talk to him about my dad’s heart issues,” she said. “He’s just so helpful, so sweet and so kind … [Georgi] was always there just to be a really good friend.”
This hard work was not only channeled into shaping his character. Georgi applied himself in every aspect of his life — in studying, in working, and as his friend Thomas Hazlett recalls, shaping up his classic Mustang on a daily basis.
But Georgi’s hard work never diminished his sense of fun. Hazlett, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, recalled spending summers with him on Long Beach Island, where he remembers hanging out on boats, reminiscing at local bars and listening to Georgi famously bomb a joke.
Mandee Bellarosa, Georgi’s ex-girlfriend, said the two of them traveled all over the world with Jimmy the Traveling Turtle, their Peruvian finger puppet. In a three-year time span, Jimmy visited 15 different countries.
But Bellarosa believes his character was shaped by his experience in the U.S. Army. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Georgi knew he had a duty to serve his country, and at age 20, enlisted in the army.
Since, he was deployed by both the military and a private contractor — once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan, she said.
Robert Bright, assistant director of the Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services, said Georgi worked as an intelligence analyst, a position with the responsibility of reviewing, deciphering and generating reports on enemy movements.
Georgi, a political science major, wanted to apply this experience in the future, as he planned on working for the government, Bright said.
Bellarosa said he served with pride for himself, his family and his country.
“He really was the kindest, warmest, most generous person you will ever meet, and that’s what makes this even more of a tragedy,” Bellarosa said. “I feel like he had so much more left to give, and it’s so unfortunate that his life got cut short”
Even though he passed, Georgi’s legacy has much more left to give. By running, he planned to raise money for the Rutgers Emergency Grant and Scholarship Fund. The fund, established by Abel, helps student veterans whose GI Bills may not cover financial emergencies, such as a car breaking down or a heater in need of repair.
These troubles led to many veterans withdrawing from the University, and since the University created the Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services to help veterans graduate, Abel said he needed to find a solution to this problem.
“We thought, if we had an emergency fund that we could go to, to help them over that financial hurdle, we could keep more veterans at Rutgers,” he said. “Instead of worrying about their money, [this will] have them focus on their academic success at Rutgers.”
The fund runs solely off of donations. So far, the office has raised about $200,000 and has given out all but about $40,000. According to his page on GoFundMe.com, Georgi raised $5,907 so far.
Although Georgi never had the chance to run for his cause, others plan to travel to Long Beach Island Oct. 13 to run in his place. Michael Klaser, another University veteran, was one of the first people at Rutgers to decide to run for Georgi.
“I’m a runner, and was planning on being in another race that day, so I said ‘Well, I can run it in his honor,’” said Klaser, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “It just seemed logical to me to do it.”
For Klaser, taking on the Long Beach Island run is an ambitious call — 18 miles is the farthest distance he has ever run continuously. Beginning to train three weeks beforehand seems slightly daunting, but he believes his drive paired with a mini crash-course training plan will help him finish the race.
As others found out about Klaser’s idea, it spread. Eventually, he found himself in charge of managing a Rutgers student team, which currently consists of 20 runners. Two student groups, Rutgers University Services Education Resources Veterans Students and Rutgers University for Troops are supporting this run.
To date, six team members will run the entire 18 miles, and the rest will run their choice of nine, six, three or one mile. The race’s director, Mike Thompson, waived the entry fee for anyone running in honor of Georgi.
Klaser coordinated with Magis, who works on recruiting non-Rutgers runners. So far, her portion of the team has 12 official runners.
Magis has taken on a great deal of responsibility in organizing the event, from managing registration to recruiting restaurants to sponsor the runners. She designed army-themed, military-green T-shirts for the runners, which sport a bald eagle, the army logo, stars, and of course, Georgi’s name.
“This guy would definitely have done this for me if it were me who passed away,” she said. “He definitely would have wanted to accomplish the goal.”