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Going the Distance

Rosemarie Nelson, accomplished business consultant, goes the road least traveled

By Mary Beth Roach

Rosemarie Nelson  photographed by Chuck Wainwright near her home in Jamesville.
Rosemarie Nelson photographed by Chuck Wainwright near her home in Jamesville.

“Anybody can do it. You’re putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, somebody does it faster than somebody else.”

That’s how 63-year-old Rosemarie Nelson, one of Central New York’s premiere runners, defines running.

And Nelson’s usually the one doing it faster than anyone else.

She’s been named the Road Runners Club of America State Half-Marathon Female Senior Grand Master Champion. She’s run hundreds of races, including the Adirondack Marathon in 1997, and the Boston Marathon twice (in 1998 and 1999). She’s been the race director for the annual 10-mile Mountain Goat Run, and is president of the Mountain Goat Foundation. She is slated to take over as treasurer of that organization at the end of the year.

A runner for about 35 years, Nelson also helps and mentors others preparing for races.

She is a petite powerhouse.

When she’s not running races, she’s running her own consulting business. She heads up the Pointe East Homeowners Association in Jamesville, and will become president of the board of directors of Hospice of Central New York in November.

Both she and her husband, Tim, are Syracuse University alumni, and as such, have become staunch SU supporters, not only attending the football and basketball games as season ticket holders, but as donors to both the academic and athletic programs at the school.

“When she takes on anything, she jumps in 100 percent. She just blows you away,” said Margaret Hartmann, president of the Syracuse Track Club.

Where does she find the energy to accomplish all this?

A lot of it comes from running, of course.

“I’m actually more energized the mornings I run,” she said.

Empire State Half-Marathon in Syracuse. 2017.
Empire State Half-Marathon in Syracuse. 2017.

She runs four mornings a week, and does boot camp at a local fitness center the other three days.

It’s all part of her daily routine, and one that she believes keeps her fit, both physically and mentally.

“It’s like brushing your teeth. I’m not brushing my teeth because I hope they stay really good and I can chew till I’m 95. You just get up every day and do it,” she said.

She will often run by herself, which “is a great time to reflect, whether you’re problem solving or just thinking of things, or planning,” she said.

It’s this cross training, she believes, that has enabled her to improve on her running time.

“My times were getting better as I was getting older,” she said.

She has said she’s not competitive against others, but it’s about doing her best.

She wanted to run her first marathon by the time she reached 40. She beat that goal by two years, running the Wineglass Marathon in the fall of 1994 at age 38. She keeps a spreadsheet to track her PRs (runners’ code for personal records).

Her best time, she said, depends on the event, but to date, for a marathon, it’s 3 hours and 28 minutes, and she’s done 5Ks in under an 8-minute mile pace.

She’s tenacious in all categories, according to Maryann Roefaro, CEO of Hematology-Oncology Associates of CNY, a friend of Nelson for about 25 years.

“Unstoppable when she runs. Unstoppable when she volunteers for something. Unstoppable when she was the race director for the Mountain Goat,” Roefaro said.

Nelson had been working at Welch-Allyn when a colleague, about 25 years her junior, approached and said she had heard she did marathons.

While previously working for Health Care Data Systems, she came to know Roefaro, who was a vice president at Crouse Hospital at the time.

“I immediately loved her because she’s so positive, so bubbly, so filled with life and love. You just are drawn to her,” said Roefaro.

On the run

Nelson wasn’t a born runner. In fact, the Warners native was in the marching band while attending West Genesee High School. She graduated in 1974 and started at SUNY Albany. She realized that she was gaining a little weight, and thought she’d start running.

“It wasn’t so cool back in the ‘70s,” she said, so she’d run at night, doing a few laps around the quad. She’d run about three months, lose a few pounds, stop running, gain weight back, and start running again.

“I got into a cycle,” she said. “I wouldn’t call myself a runner then.”

Atlanta Marathon in Atlanta, Ga., in 2004.
Atlanta Marathon in Atlanta, Ga., in 2004.

She left Albany after three semesters and returned to Central New York. She got a job as a teller at the then-First Trust and Deposit Bank, now KeyBank, in 1976.

Her time at the bank would end up altering her life. She would meet her husband there, and he helped to re-ignite her passion for running — she’d enter her first race; she’d get back on track to earn her associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees; and she’d be on a career path that would ultimately lead to her to becoming an independent contractor.

After work at the bank, she and Tim would often head to the downtown YMCA and run laps.  However, while doing a run on the east side of Syracuse one day, Tim tripped and broke his ankle. While he was recovering, she used the time to improve her running so that when he healed, they could run together. That’s when she felt that she’d become a runner, she said.

“Running with Tim, it was our time together,” she said. “We’d run together before work. Sometimes you’re chatting the whole time, sometimes you’re just together. I think that connection was really good.”

She entered her first race in 1980 — a 3.5-mile United Way run in Jamesville. She won her age group, and was awarded a United Way coffee mug, which she still has and brings out every so often.

It was at KeyBank that she returned to school part-time; took advantage of the Bank Administration Institute, a program between the bank and Onondaga Community College; and earned an associate’s degree in banking/business.

She had begun taking classes at University College, and she was able to continue those classes when she went to work at Planned Parenthood, since that organization had a remitted tuition program with Syracuse University.

At Planned Parenthood, she helped the organization implement a computer system that streamlined a lot of the paperwork it had been doing manually.

It was through her work there that her career evolved into health care, she said.

She moved in the mid-1980s to Health Care Data Systems, a company affiliated at the time with Crouse Hospital. It was an era when a lot of medical practices were still using paper, she explained, and the company was helping bring technology to many of those offices.

However, with all the newly emerging technology, some customers were having problems making adjustments. So, she approached the company’s vice president of sales and suggested they provide a consulting service along with the implementation.

When he asked who was going to do that, Nelson, with her usual can-do style, responded, “I’ll do it.”

She became so highly regarded that people were calling her at Health Care Systems to ask for help, even if they weren’t using her company’s systems.

So again, she went to the vice president and convinced him to expand the company’s consulting services, which, she said, might result in selling a system or two of its own.

Through the remitted tuition programs and reimbursement offered by Health Care Data Systems, she was able to finish her bachelor’s degree in management-information systems  from Syracuse University, and earn her master’s degree in health care administration from The New School.

Nelson began sensing that some changes were in the wind at Health Care Data Systems, so in 1998, she went to work for Welch Allyn.

Rosemarie Nelson running in the Willow Bay 5K in Liverpool in 2017. At 63, she has run hundreds of races. She’s been named the Road Runners Club of America State Half-Marathon Female Senior Grand Master Champion.
Rosemarie Nelson running in the Willow Bay 5K in Liverpool in 2017. At 63, she has run hundreds of races. She’s been named the Road Runners Club of America State Half-Marathon Female Senior Grand Master Champion.

The company was doing an initiative called Office of the Future, in which it was connecting its medical devices to electronic health records.

She was also writing articles about the technology, doing talks, and traveling 192 days in one year — and her reputation was spreading.

In the early 2000s, she became self-employed so she could spend more time with Tim and her family. She is still an independent contractor today, and through her work, she helps medical practices with their operations and technology, she presents and writes nationally and works with medical practices on specific short-term issues or projects.

Her various jobs would also lead to new friendships and opportunities to help mentor younger runners.

“I think connecting with people is the key — If you have friends, you’ll run together. You’re on the road together and you share things you wouldn’t share in other places,” she said.

When Roefaro decided to try running about five years ago at the age of 53, she naturally turned to Nelson for some guidance.

“When I started running, obviously the first person I was going to turn to was my friend Rosemarie,” Roefaro said. “She’ll give you anything she has. She loves to help people. I tell her all the time she’s my running hero.”

Even though Roefaro is a few years her junior, she feels that when they run together, she slows Rosemarie down.

“If they are long runs, and I’m tired, she’ll run backwards while I run forward, and she’ll still talk the whole time,” Roefaro said. “She’s aging so beautifully. Her running times are compared to people in their 40s.”

Rosemary Nelson: Her Giving Side

Rosemarie Nelson’ greatest accomplishments, ironically enough, have nothing to do with running, she said.

The first one she mentioned was being there for her mother, Loretta Crossett, and supporting her during her final days.

Crossett died in December of 2015. Because Nelson was so appreciative of the care her mother received during that time from Hospice of Central New York, she has become involved with that organization. It just spoke to her, she said.

The second achievement has been, she said, getting her degrees while continuing to work.

As longtime friend Maryann Roefaro, CEO of Hematology-Oncology Associates of CNY, said, “Rosemarie is great at everything she decides she’s going to do.”

Long before earning her diplomas at Syracuse University — and before there was a Carrier Dome and the Orange basketball team was playing games at Manley Field House — she had been an SU supporter.

“I grew up a fan,” she said. “I have three brothers, but I was the oldest. My father would get two tickets to a game at Manley, and I would get to go a lot, and that was the best time ever. Partly it was because it was me and my father.”

Her husband, Tim, is also a graduate of SU. He had been in the Army serving in Vietnam and learned of a government program that enabled him to attend SU.

“He says when he got here, he couldn’t take the smile off his face. I think that was very, very meaningful to him. It was a good experience,” she said.

Today, they are committed to making good experiences for students.

April Mazza, director of gift planning at the Office of Advancement and External Affairs at SU, related a story about how the Nelsons became so involved. They had attended a football banquet where they heard a former student-athlete talk about how he was a first-generation student and how he was able to earn a scholarship to come to Syracuse to play sports.

“It drew them into the student-athletes’ experiences and their workloads, and how much they have to carry,” Mazza said.

According to Doreen Henson, senior director of gift planning, the Nelsons annually support the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, where both she and Tim earned their degrees.

Some of the other most impactful areas that they have supported, Henson pointed out, include the Executive Education Breakout Room in the Whitman Building; initiatives in the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center; and the primary medical care lab in the Barnes Center at The Arch, SU’s new health, wellness and recreation complex under construction next to the dome.

The Tim and Rosemarie Nelson Endowed Scholarship, through their estate, will provide scholarship and financial assistance to undergraduate students who are members of non-revenue sports, Henson added.

They also support the Life Skills Program in Athletics, which helps SU student-athletes with the skills and knowledge they will need to have a successful career at the school and beyond, and that have underwritten challenges within the athletics program that urge former student-athletes to give back to their team.

“As a couple, they like to make sure that they’re having an impact on our students,” Henson said.

Nelson also donates her time and energy and even some pushups! For example, she serves on various committees at SU, including the ‘Cuse Council, which tries to improve upon the fan’s experience.

Nelson has been known to get so into these games, that several years ago, while on the sidelines with Tim, she dropped and began doing seven pushups for every touchdown the Orangemen scored. By the end of the game, Mazza estimated, she did about 95.

She’s “the perfect ambassador for any organization, and thank God one of them is Syracuse University,” Henson said.

Roefaro seems to sum Nelson up quite aptly: “She’s kind and loving and compassionate and adorable and smart. She’s just got the whole package.”