Nancy Rollins: Marathon Runner

People are always surprised to learn that Nancy Rollins, an accomplished marathoner, didn’t start running until she was 30.

“Girls didn’t run when I was young—we didn’t even have sports,” she says.

When Nancy did start running, she quickly discovered she had a talent for it, and that it improved her mental health, bringing balance to her life. As a practicing therapist, she has shared the mental benefits of running with her patients over the last 14 years.

“Positive experiences are like skipping a stone,” Nancy says. “They fan out.” And she speaks from experience. After her first marriage ended in divorce, she found that running nurtured her both physically and psychologically. “It connected me to my body’s signals,” she says. She became more accepting of her body, desired healthier food and felt her right brain turn on. “I’m very left brain, but when I run, my playful, kid self comes out,” she says.

Nancy vividly recalls running her first marathon, the Chicago Marathon, in 1980. “There were women of all ages, shapes and sizes. I thought, ‘This is the most positive, inspiring happening, and I want to be a part of it,’” she says. Not only did she run that race, but also more than 50 races after it. In Chicago, she has finished first in her age group roughly a dozen times, and in the highly competitive Boston Marathon, she finished first in her age group in 2007 and 2008, at ages 60 and 61 (the last two years, she came in second). Her first Boston Marathon, in 1982, holds a special place in her heart: That’s where she met her runner husband, Carle, with whom she has two sons—both runners, of course.

After working as a nurse and a psychiatric nurse for many years, Nancy became a therapist in the ‘90s, and immediately integrated running into her practice at the Center for Christian Life Enrichment in Northbrook. “Part of mental health is physical fitness,” she says. “It’s a huge passion for me to pass that wisdom onto my patients.” A few years later, she started a therapeutic running group.

Given her history, it’s no surprise that Nancy has no plans to retire from running or her therapy practice anytime soon. In fact, she’s headed back to Boston this spring. She says, “My philosophy of life is to stay active and have new goals.”