Ambassador Spotlight: Nancy Cook
Location: Belchertown, MA
How long have you been an ambassador? Since November 2020
Favorite beer? Free Wave
Favorite seltzer? Blood Orange
Social media: @nanskimtn on Instagram; @nanskimtn on Twitter
Navy SEAL Foundation: www.navysealfoundation.org
Global TEAMWORK Fitness Challenge: https://impact.navysealfoundation.org/event/global-teamwork-fitness-challenge-2021/e339346
Nancy Cook is a lifelong lover of sports. You only have to learn a little bit about her to know that: She's tried many, and excelled at many more.
But her love of running is really what trumps all. She's competed in and completed almost too many marathons to count. What's even more impressive than her resume is the fact that she did many of those after being diagnosed with cancer -- even running while receiving and right after completing chemotherapy for stage 4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
Nancy said she knew that the cancer wasn't going to win, and she stayed strong by doing what makes her strong -- running.
"I was diagnosed in 2010 with stage 4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. When you Google my disease -- the survival rate was not good. I thought I was dead. That experience helped me to rise above it, because I decided cancer didn’t define me. It wasn’t going to defeat me. I wanted to keep doing what I was doing -- keep running. Do what is going to make you stronger. And I was even stronger after cancer."
Nancy has recently been enjoying indoor rowing and has secured the American record at the marathon distance on the Concept2. She's also excited about her new role with the Navy SEAL Foundation, and looking forward to making a big difference in the lives of our Navy SEALs and the Naval Special Warfare Community through fitness fundraising events.
Tell me a little bit about your athletic background. What activities do you enjoy doing?
I grew up playing basketball and skiing. My family was very active. We moved to a farm, and everybody in my family worked on the farm. I played all sports in high school, lettered in all the sports, played field hockey and basketball in college. Then I went back to skiing. My senior year of college, I started working as a ski lift attendant at Pico Mountain. I moved to Killington (Vermont) and was a ski bum. I worked as a ski patroller for 10 years and waited tables at night. I loved being a ski bum!
During that time period, I quickly got addicted to running and started doing triathlons. My first marathon was in Montreal in 1989. I had never ran a marathon, so I didn’t really have a training plan -- I just did it. I didn’t know what I was doing. That is what started me to take training more seriously, but I always thought I could just pull them off, just wing it. I’ve done a ton of these marathons just because I'm always just putting in the miles running, I really didn’t think I needed a training plan. But then I had a friend who ran the Chicago Marathon with me in 2006, who encouraged me to follow a plan. I finally trained! And I was able to run fast to meet my finish time goal of sub-3:15.
Running -- it’s always been my social life. It’s “my people” ... being around those people that really give you the energy to continue to do what you love to do. My closest friends are these athletes that I’ve met in different sports -- my ski friends and my running friends. I’m a polymath and love all sports -- I kayak, I waterski ... I always want to try something new -- what haven’t I tried to do?
What are some new things that you’ve been trying recently?
Two “out of the box” new things I’ve tried recently are ping pong -- I'm going to try to see if I can be a good ping pong player -- and when my son joined the tennis team, I bought myself a really nice tennis racket so I can learn to play tennis too. I’m an all-around athlete that can pick up sports really easily, and because I’m very competitive, when I pick up a sport, I want to be good at it. I don’t go half in. I started jump roping. Have you heard of the Crossrope? I started following CrossFit athletes and have this goal of being good at those “double unders.” Jump-roping reminds me of when I was a kid. It’s so much fun and an amazing workout!
As an older athlete, what I’ve realized is that you need to do a lot of different sports. Cross-training is key so you’re not impacting your joints in the same way in order to continue to perform at the highest level you are capable of for your age.
What made you decide to apply to become an Athletic Brewing ambassador?
I was introduced at Seven Sisters Trail Race. It is widely considered the most challenging race in the Northeast. The Run Wild was the beer I tried. It wasn’t right away that I applied, but I decided that -- drinking alcohol during COVID, I realized how much alcohol was just not working for my lifestyle. And it’s exhausting to continue to drink like that. I didn’t feel like I had a “problem.”
There wasn’t any real reason to stop. I love the taste of beer and I still do. I like to drink, but when you drink more than your “limit” you feel horrible. Being an athlete and being a strong athlete and having goals, it works against your goals. For me, it was really about having goals and wanting to feel healthy and feel good every single morning. Alcohol didn’t do that for me.
It was a great opportunity to change my habits. Because it’s all about a routine and what you do every day. If you can get yourself in a habit of drinking every day, you can get yourself out of it. Athletic brew is a really amazing bridge because it tastes really good. You get the same tastes you like in a nonalcoholic option. All the different options -- it’s been super fun, for myself and as well as for others. I love being that person that people would look to and say, “Hey what are you doing and what’s working for you?” People ask me all the time.
Being that person and drinking alcohol -- it’s not the right person that you want to be. Athletic brews are a positive, healthy option. This did that for me. It’s important to be healthy and to be that model for others. I love all the beers. I love the seltzers. With Athletic, they’ve got so many different options all the time. And I love sharing it. It’s been super fun.
In what ways has the Ambassador program helped you grow or develop in your personal, professional and/or athletic careers?
During COVID, I got more into indoor rowing. I love rowing! My streak just ended at 382 days! I love having the option right down in my basement, the community. We challenge each other and talk to each other. It’s key for me to feel good at 5:30 in the morning to go to my virtual rowing class (Live2Row Studios in Florida). We celebrate every million meters with champagne -- before I was non-alcoholic, it was champagne, but when I started non-alcoholic, I brought my [Athletic] beer, going to rowing happy hour with my Athletic beer or seltzer.
It’s made a huge difference to me. I feel much better, I sleep much better. I think you don’t realize what’s in the beer or the wine that’s just messing with your sleep. There are so many things you need to check off that list when you’re an athlete.
What are some of your favorite moments or highlights of your athletic pursuits?
I’ve completed 4 IRONMANs -- in the ’90s. My best (and last) IRONMAN was an 11:52; I ran a 3:50 marathon at the end, which was amazing. I was second in my age group. You had to be first in age to get the Hawaii (Kona) ticket and although I was disappointed not to go to Hawaii, that race was truly a highlight.
The Boston marathon, 2007: I ran a 3:05:59. I placed seventh in masters -- I ran that in my 40s. It was the year of the nor'easter. They were going to cancel it because of this crazy snowstorm that was predicted. There was nobody on the streets. Nobody there to cheer you on. I had just met my husband Steve. He was right at the finish line. There was nobody there. It was rainy and nasty, so as near the finish, I hear all these girls scream my name as I’m crossing the finish line. He meets me right there with a dozen roses and a heavy winter jacket so I didn’t get cold. Everybody was wanting to interview me. I had no clue what I done - but I placed 7th Master! I knew I was going fast, but I wasn’t going for an age group win so it was a huge surprise.
In 2010, I was diagnosed with cancer. Throughout my chemo treatment I kept training for the Chicago Marathon. I ran Chicago in a Wonder Woman outfit with my friend Cara who was in a Batgirl outfit. I ran a sub-4 hours, and I was two-thirds of the way through chemo. I love to share my experience and my message is to give people hope, letting them know that they need to focus on what helps them be stronger. For me, it was running. I continued to run through chemo and through cancer. After treatment, they thought they found more cancer, and they had to remove my spleen. I had qualified for Boston, and 6 weeks after my spleen was removed I ran Boston. I was in this amazing shape to run, and even though I had cancer, I continued to train my body to be strong.
I’ve done two 50-milers. The first 50-miler was not even a full year after my last chemo treatment finishing in 8 hours and 30 minutes. I was the fourth woman finisher at the Vermont 50 that year. I qualified for the Western States lottery for 100-miler, put my name in the hat, but was not selected.
Recently my focus has been shifted to [indoor] rowing. I set the American record for the marathon on a rowing machine. I rowed 26.2 miles in 2:59. This year I placed first in my age at C.R.A.S.H. B, which is the world championship for rowing, I did the 2,000 meter sprint in 7 minutes, 24 seconds in my 50s!
Can you tell me more about your cancer diagnosis and sharing that idea of “finding what makes you strong” with others?
I was diagnosed in 2010 with stage 4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. When you Google my disease -- the survival rate was not good. I thought I was dead. That experience helped me to rise above it, because I decided cancer didn’t define me. It wasn’t going to defeat me. I wanted to keep doing what I was doing -- keep running. Do what is going to make you stronger. And I was even stronger after cancer. I think that story alone, sharing that. Sometimes, people may not want to talk, so you put it out there -- you can offer them that hope that someone has done this. There have been a few people I’ve been referred to that were big athletes going through a really hard time. One phone call, or being friends with them, helped them through that really hard time. Who knows who else has read my story or seen my story.
Some of my goals and aspirations are to write a book, using my blog as a foundation. You never know when someone’s going to reach out or read your blog. I’ve shared my story in so many different ways, I know that I’ve touched a lot of people. A lot of people don’t like to talk about what they’re going through or what they’re dealing with. If you can, find a way to share what you’re going through in a way that can be a learning experience. It really is about what people need to hear, and where are they in their life right now. I feel that sharing my story is sharing hope.
What are your goals for 2021 and beyond?
Plenty of rowing -- I just completed another half marathon on the Concept2 Indoor Rower, and I missed the American record by less than a minute. There are many distances I’m really close to getting the American record, and I know if I get on a training plan I can reach those goals. The half marathon is my first target.
I’m also running my seventh Mount Washington Road Race; it’s 7.4 miles running up Mount Washington. I’m an avid mountain runner too -- mountain running is huge for me! Mountain runners are really cool, super fun people. Anyone that runs to the top of a mountain has to be cool!
COVID has made things kind of awkward. You don’t know what’s happening, so it’s hard to commit, hard to set goals.
I qualified for Boston 2021 (Fall) and will be using that platform in raising money for the Navy SEAL Foundation to support our most Elite Team.
Tell me more about your fundraiser and the work you do with the Navy SEAL Foundation.
I’m the Director of Teams, working with the Navy SEAL Foundation. My position is working with all the fitness events for the Foundation. The event that I am working to launch, the inaugural event, is the TEAMWORK Fitness Challenge.
It’s modeled after the physical fitness test (PFT) that the SEALs have to go through in order just to qualify for basic training. They have to pass a certain level of this physical fitness test. At this event everyone is asked to challenge themselves and see how they measure up!
The event challenges you for 3 minutes of sit-ups, 3 minutes of pushups, and a 3 mile run. For Navy SEALs, it’s really important that [they] have a buddy. That buddy is there not only to encourage them and motivate them, but in the swim, that’s how they make it, they really depend on their buddy.
In SEAL training, they place a huge emphasis on them. It’s such a great message. Having a training partner, that’s why I'm part of a team. It’s all about finding people that you connect with, people that will encourage you as a friend. They’re there to help you and help you succeed.
The event will be held in October and we will be launching the website and communications to start signing up in June. Our locations are in San Diego (October 16) and Virginia Beach (date TBD), and a global (virtual) option where you can complete the challenge wherever you are all throughout the month of October.. Reebok is our official apparel sponsor. Luminox our official timer. Athletic Brewing will be at both of those events and we are going to engage the Ambassadors with a team.
It’s been exciting supporting our elite forces. This is the elite force our country sends in to battle, putting their lives on the line. The Navy SEAL foundation is here to support these elite warriors and their families.
The foundation has had a 4-star rating for 10 years and a perfect score by Charity Navigator for going on six years.The Navy SEAL Foundation ranks in the top 0.7% of all charities nationwide.
When you think about what this elite force does in combat and in training, it's incredibly hard. Not only on their body, but mentally, and hard on their families as well. It's an amazing organization to support with the dollars that we raise.
This TEAMWORK Fitness Challenge event is something anybody can do. It’s a whole new community of people that can help with these services. That to me is exciting. I feel like I'm doing something that is really going to make an impact and make an impact on this community that’s serving this country.
Do you have a favorite rest day activity?
Rest day activities that I love are sourdough baking and photography! I love my breads and love to photograph them, and just getting outside taking photos is really my artistic outlet!
If you could choose one event as the dream event, what would that be? What would make your life, like, “YES, I did it”? Anything goes here, this is your dream.
I would love to do the IRONMAN in Hawaii (Kona). Iit has been a dream of mine for more than 30 years.
What does without compromise mean to you?
Life without compromise … I think it means being able to do the things that you’re passionate about, that you want to do, be able to set those goals, and have the best chance of achieving the highest level of goals, without compromising with your choice.
Every day, you make choices. You should be able to make good choices, but not compromise. So being able to find out what are those choices that you can make that will help you. It’s not about making a good choice versus a bad choice. But where you can make a good choice that’s going to propel you to success in reaching your goals. Living without compromise really is doing all those things without giving up something that you really like.
I can relate it to alcohol, but you really can relate it to so many other things: You can go to a party, drink a beer and still be a part of the fun without compromising who you are as a person. Show up as your best self and live your best life -- that is what living without compromise is all about.