GUILFORD >> Sue Kruczek remembers when just getting out of bed was a struggle, putting one foot down on the floor at a time and facing each day with trepidation. A lot has changed over the last three and a half years.
“Now when I get up I can put my feet on the ground and I know I’m grounded,” she says.
Sue Kruczek of Guilford is on a mission, a mission in memory of her son, Nick Kruczek, who died in 2013 from a heroin overdose.
Last weekend, with the threat of torrential rain casting a cloud over the Lifelinx/DAY 5K Nick Kruczek Color Run/Walk, a smiling Sue Kruczek greeted friends, family and supporters as they arrived at the Guilford Fairgrounds.
The 5K race took runners and walkers from the fairgrounds to Jacobs Beach and back. Along the route, stations were set up where spectators could literally bombard participants with a rainbow of colors made with dyed cornstarch and water.
Sue Kruczek proudly wore T-shirt, emblazoned with a photo of her son and the words “One Love…Remembering Nick Kruczek.”
“It’s going to be my new favorite shirt,” she says, laughing.
The Color Run/Walk, which attracted over 200 entrants, was a kick-off for the Guilford DAY (Developmental Assets for Youth) Week, which is observed with purple flags placed all over town.
“This really is just a great opportunity to bring the community together so that nobody feels like they’re alone,” says Lisa Ott, DAY co-chairman.
“Not the kid that’s home on the couch on Saturday night, and nobody who’s battling addiction,” Ott adds.
DAY was started six years ago with the mission to help Guilford’s youth stop or avoid abusing drugs or alcohol and to make positive choices, according to www.itsworthitguilford.org.
Money raised from the race will help Lifelinx “continue our mission to initiate recovery and reduce relapse,” according to President Patrice Sarna. Lifelinx is a nonprofit alcohol and drug addiction recovery program based in Guilford.
Sarna says she has 15 years of recovery and understands and appreciates the work being done by Sue Kruczek.
“She’s helping so many people,” says Sarna. “If you can stop what happened to you, that’s what I do. If I can stop what happened to me through something like this…”
Nick Kruczek’s opioid addiction started at Daniel Hand High School, in the locker room before a hockey game his freshman year.
“He was the starting center on the varsity team and someone handed him a little white pill to help him relax,” recalls Sue Kruczek, a former Madison resident.
His opioid addiction continued throughout high school and at 20-years-old Nick Kruczek lost his life to an “accidental heroin overdose,” according to his mother.
While she says she knows talking about her son is important, she admits it is not easy.
“It’s painful to sit there and relive Nick’s last minutes and how his struggle started,” she says.
“I’ll tell you, though, as soon as I’ve gotten it all out and I’ve said everything I needed to say, I feel good,” she says. “I instantly feel good.”
Sean Langrieger, now 25, was a co-captain, along with Nick Kruczek, of the DHHS varsity hockey team. He remembers the shock of hearing about the death of his friend.
“I got a phone call from one of my best friends saying that he passed away,” Langrieger remembers. “Everything kind of went downhill from there. I tried calling his phone, tried to talk to him, because it was just so surreal to me.
“It was very overwhelming for me. It was so much to handle,” Langrieger says. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Standing among the other runners on the overcast Saturday, Langrieger says he could feel Nick Kruczek’s presence.
Moments before the start of the color run, Sue Kruczek pulls a folded paper out of her pocket. It is a note that sums up what her work is all about.
“Beautiful job, Sue. Thank you for changing the face of addiction for so many. You’re an angel for many, as I believe your beautiful angel in Heaven is right beside you doing this beautiful work.”
Every talk this mother gives, every event she attends, every life she touches and every child she saves from addiction, she says she believes her son is right there alongside her.
“You do worry that people are going to forget Nick,” says Sue Kruczek, fighting back tears. “That is fearful.”
State Sen. Ten Kennedy, Jr., attending the run, applauded Sue Kruczek’s work.
“It’s turning a personal tragedy into something that is positive social change,” says Kennedy.
“We’re fortunate that we live in a community that really supports each other.”
Supporting Sue Kruczek in this journey is her husband, Kyle Kruczek and their two children, Teagan, 11 and Haley, 13.
“I’m not a hoverer, which maybe you would think,” she says.
“I do have a lot of fear that something might happen to them, which I didn’t have before,” she adds. “So I guess I do worry more and I think, ‘My God, don’t let anything happen to these two babies, I won’t be able to handle that.’”
The first Mother’s Day after her son’s Oct. 10, 2013 death, her husband, Kyle Kruczek gave her a heart necklace inscribed with the words, “Always in my heart” on the front and Nick’s fingerprint on the reverse.
She admits that, to this day, Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday.
While Kyle Kruczek supports his wife’s efforts wholeheartedly, he is far less inclined to be in front of the crowd.
“It’s hard for me to speak and be in public,” he says. “It’s just hard for me to talk about it and be out in front like she is, so I just stand in the background and support her and be there for everything she does.
“She’s just done so many wonderful things,” he adds. “I’m so proud of her and happy for her and she’s making a difference.”
Ott agrees and believes that Sue Kruczek’s work, in her son’s memory, is extremely important.
“When you put a specific face to it, that’s what makes it real,” she says. “That this does happen in towns like Guilford and Madison and we’re not a magical place and not an island.
“It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” Ott adds. “Really, I can’t imagine having the kind of strength to talk about that, so I really admire her courage. She’s just done amazing work. It’s really, really impressive.”