Saturday Spotlight- Nancy Ann Nowak

Name: Nancy Ann Nowak
Nickname: Nance (rhymes with dance)
Age: 49
Hometown: Mineola, NY
Current Town: Mineola, NY
Marital Status: Single – never been married
Children: Andy (18)
Pets: Jazzy (she’s annoying)
Occupation: Advocate with Disability Rights New York, Trainer with CQL (I accredit programs that work with people with disabilities around the country and certify staff), I am a receptionist with Weight Watchers on Saturdays in Carle Place. Favorite sneakers: I’m transitioning out of New Balance 860s to Altras and eventually Nike FlyKnits

Well what an honor to be chosen! I have only been to the hills a few times, but definitely plan to get out there more often this spring and summer. Okay, hmm – now I guess it’s time to talk about me!

I grew up in Mineola and have two younger sisters and one older brother. We grew up going camping every summer as that was the only vacation we could afford. Somehow I don’t remember the mundane – but could never forget those nights in our tent telling stories and laughing at my snoring father. I loved fishing and was never afraid to dig up worms or hunt for frogs and snakes. I was a bit of an entrepreneur and would collect rocks and go door to door trying to sell them. I would describe what I saw in that rock and hope someone would buy it. I seriously made a good chunk of change doing that! I joined Girl Scouts, but they didn’t camp out enough and I was always pissed I couldn’t just be in the Boy Scouts.

Although I had some great friends in HS – I never really found myself until I went away to college. Those 4 years of HS I swear I counted the days until I could get off of LI. I purposely chose the furthest place I could go: SUNY Plattsburgh. It was there that I discovered the Grateful Dead. I had always thought they were a heavy metal band lol. My roommates were all deadheads and I really hated the music. I couldn’t understand how the songs never ended. Then one day my roommates were all away for the weekend and I was lonely so I put on the music and really listened to it. Box of Rain became my song and it was that weekend I became a deadhead. I lived in tiedyes, long skirts, and moccasins. My hair always smelled of incense – kinda miss that. I couldn’t bare to go back home in the summer so i became a camp counselor at Camp Rosemont in Honesdale, PA with children who had learning disabilities. After 2 years away at school, my gpa suffered real bad. Let’s face it I just had a little too much fun those two years and had to return to Long Island to get my GPA back up at Nassau Community College. I remember sitting in the Brick Cafe on my first day with this huge book of colleges searching for where I would go next as I was not happy being back on the Island at all. That year I walked everywhere…I was afraid to drive despite having my drivers license. I often walked to NCC from home. I would stop along the way and write letters to friends describing where I was writing the letter. I’d sit and write poetry and decorate the envelopes. At the end of that year a friend of mine from HS that I eventually had a relationship with committed suicide. I was the last person to speak to him. I really didn’t know how to handle the pain of this and did whatever I could to avoid dealing with it. I avoided life and went to work at a new summer camp in Chappaqua. Camp fires have always been a source of peace for me.

I ended up heading to Slippery Rock, PA to finish my Bachelors Degree. I never visited the college, I think I just loved the name of it! Those two years were insane. I went on tour with the dead going to show after show (that’s what you call it). I also fell in love for the first time. I lived with a biker who was 13 years older than me and an alcoholic. Somehow I still graduated with honors despite him wanting me to make snow angels when I was trying to study. I left him during the summers to work at camp and also to gain me time! I did my internship in Alabama and eventually headed to Florida with the biker. I made it 8 months in Davie, Florida and was extremely unhappy. I still didn’t drive – rode my bike everywhere and was very limited. I managed to line up a job in Vermont and after secretly shipping my stuff back to NY. Eventually I told the biker I was leaving. Just two weeks later I landed in Cuttingsville, Vermont completely broken from the break up. I lived at Spring Lake Ranch – a therapeutic work community for people with mental illness and drug or alcohol addictions. I learned how to cut ice out of the lake, fell trees, build houses, maple syrup and most importantly- I learned to love myself. I also learned driving wasn’t so bad! I stayed longer than most, but after three years it was time for me to move on. I headed to MN to live near an old camp friend. I bought my first car and that’s when I stopped walking or riding my bike and yes, I gained a ton of weight. I did become a Camp Director those years and met my son’s father. He knew I wanted a child and offered to father a child with me ‘no strings attached’ – I thought he was crazy, but I took chances and became pregnant. I have always been most proud of my choice to be a single mom by choice. My son was given my last name and I never took a dime from his father, but have always been grateful to him. At 8 months pregnant I drove in a U-haul truck from MN to a new camp in the Ithaca, NY area. My son, Andy was born in 2000. We moved to two different camps as Executive Director all the while trying to get closer to my family on Long Island. In 2008, We left the camp world and moved home with my mom so she could retire after a heart attack. Once back on LI, I realized it was time to focus on me. I landed a great job overseeing group homes and I joined weight watchers and finally started to drop the weight. I had done the program before, but I knew this time was different. At about 30 or so pounds down – my Starbucks barista noticed. He looked at me and said – Nance – you are a runner. I was like – are you kidding me? I’m a ‘fat girl’. He showed me pictures of how running helped him lose over 100 lbs. and told me to meet him at this triangle in Garden City. I told him I couldn’t afford personal training and he said forget that let me teach you to run. Well he was cute so I figured – why the hell not?! He’d have me run from tree to tree around that triangle – rain or shine. Within three weeks – me, that ‘fat girl’ was running a mile. I felt like a million bucks. Now over 100 lbs down and I’ve kept it off for more than 3 years – I’m training to do 4 marathons in one year. One down – three to go! Disney in January, London in April, Berlin in September and NYCM in November.

Ok I’m gonna shut up now or else this post is gonna go on and on! Hope I haven’t bored you – very proud to have gone from being that ‘fat girl’ to being your WOTW! Looking forward to running the hills with you all!

Btw – I would like to walk a hilly 1/2 marathon one Sunday soon – so please reach out if interested (I’m directionally challenged and will need your help!)…