Sunday mornings, they walked to Mass together at St. Charles Borromeo in Turnersville.
"If she cared about you," Rocco recalled, "there is nothing that she wouldn't do for you. Grandma was very fond of Jack, our mailman. She would make sure to have a cold glass of iced tea waiting to hand to him when he got to our porch. If she wasn't home, she'd leave a cup for him with extra ice in a shady spot."
After his mother remarried, Rocco and his grandmother moved to Elkins Park, where he ran track at Cheltenham High. He was ordinary, a 5:08 miler, but his coaches never let him quit. He never stopped running.
He is 33 now, lives in Warminster, service manager for Miller's Ale House in Northeast Philly.
On Valentine's Day, at age 96, his grandmother suffered a stroke.
"I'd visit her at the nursing home," Rocco said, "and her eyes would light up when she saw me. I'd ask her how she was feeling and, even when she could barely talk, it was always, 'I feel fine.' "
He'd change the channel to The Price Is Right.
She died March 18.
"The day before she passed, I got to see her one more time," he recalled, "and she was barely conscious. She hadn't been able to speak or eat in days, and before I left, I whispered in her ear that I loved her, and she didn't have to fight anymore.
"The next morning I got a call from my mom telling me she was gone. My heart was broken, but I knew it was for the best. Several days before, when she could barely speak, her last words to me were, 'I love you. Be careful.' "
Before she died, Rocco was already among the 40,000 runners entered in the Broad Street Run, set for May 5. But the event, sponsored by Independence Blue Cross, seemed like just another race on the calendar.
"Losing my grandmother has inspired me as a runner and made the 2013 Broad Street Run very personal for me," he said.
"Running is how I've dealt with my grief. Every time I feel tired and don't want to train, I'm reminded of what my grandmother went through these last few months.
"I can't seem to express the feelings I have any other way," he said. "I take the sadness, the anger, and the hurt that I'm dealing with, and I turn it into fuel when I'm out running.
"Running in her memory is going to be a great sense of strength to me," he said. "I know she's going to be looking down on me, watching me mile after mile."
Rocco's thoughts on the Boston tragedy:
"In 2001, only six weeks after 9/11, I competed in the NYC Marathon. One of the slogans during that race was 'United We Run!' The slogan again fits. I think the BSR is a great way for the running community to show our unity, to show we aren't scared by what happened in Boston, and to honor those who were injured and died during that event."
Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or email@example.com. On Twitter @michaelvitez