As a kid, Mark Del Monaco was convinced that he'd grow up and become a professional basketball player in the NBA.

He even went so far as to dream about the big house with a wrap-around porch he'd buy his mom once he hit it big.

Instead, he became a runner for the Boulder Track Club local team, a competitive team that represents the club at local and regional races, under coach Clint Wells.

Del Monaco said he realized, while sitting on the bench of his middle school basketball team, that the NBA might not be in his future. Now, at age 25 with a slight build and a 5-foot-8 frame, he found his alternative in running.

His regime began back in middle school, when he started training with his great uncle — the track program's coach. And like many people who try running for the first time, Del Monaco said he wasn't a huge fan.

Even his cousin and mentor Mike McCabe joked about how he "couldn't even get around the park once."

However, Del Monaco said the nice part about finding his niche in running was that there wasn't a bench to sit by idly, like in basketball.

Del Monaco kept at it through high school, then eventually running track and cross country at La Salle University in Philadelphia.

A dark point in his running career came the year after Del Monaco graduated, when his college coach Charles Torpey died unexpectedly at age 58. After the tragedy, he said he nearly quit running entirely.

"Being so close to (Torpey) and just having it evaporate in an instant — everything I ever knew was just totally changed," he said.

"That flipped my world upside down."

But Del Monaco's friend and fellow La Salle runner Sean Quigley, who now lives and trains in Boulder, is the one who helped pushed him out the door to keep running.

While Del Monaco was still living on the East Coast last year, Quigley gave him a temporary place to stay in Boulder

while Del Monaco trained for the 2012 Half-Marathon Championships.

Boulder runner Mark Del Monaco, running at the 2013 Fast and Flurry-ous race in Boulder, dreamed of being an NBA player growing up.
Boulder runner Mark Del Monaco, running at the 2013 Fast and Flurry-ous race in Boulder, dreamed of being an NBA player growing up. (Courtesy photo)

Del Monaco never left Boulder and didn't stop running.

"If it wasn't for him, I probably would not be in Boulder," Del Monaco said. "I probably would've just moved on (from running)."

The two are now teammates again under the Boulder Track Club. Quigley, who runs for the club's elite team, recently finished 10th at the USA 20K Championships in early September.

In April, Del Monaco ran a personal best at the Boston Marathon. He wasn't near the finish line when the two bombs that exploded killed three people and injured hundreds more, but he has plans to return to Boston in 2014 for his third-ever marathon.

Del Monaco, who balances running with a job in information technology for a Boulder company, said he hopes to someday qualify for the Olympic trials in the marathon.

"That would be a huge 'check-off' on the things I'd like to accomplish before I decide to stop being competitive," he said. "It's going to be really hard. I think I understand that."

In addition to working full time and often running twice a day, Del Monaco recently became an assistant coach for the Metro State University cross country team in Denver.

Del Monaco's training partner and fellow Boulder Track Club team member Zach Parris said he often needs a bit of extra encouragement to get motivated on days when the pair runs once in the morning and then later in the afternoon. Del Monaco provides that motivation for Parris, he said, because running isn't an individual pursuit for Del Monaco.

"It's not just an egocentric activity," Parris said. "(Del Monaco's) love of the sport is really comprehensive and it's not just about Mark. It's the people in the club and the community and his athletes."

Contact Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or kuta@coloradodaily.com