When Nick Synan started running on the track team in 7th grade, he remembers, “I never really wanted to run, but I did it because my friends did it.”
At the time, Nick says, he was much more interested in playing football. In the spring of 7th grade, his choices for participating in athletics at school were either wrestling or track, and he knew he did not want to wrestle. So he chose to run, and during the first meet, he won the mile race.
Shortly after that, Nick remembers that the head coach for the high school team, Bob Brown, came to one of his practices. Bob Brown told Nick that he would be a fantastic runner and he should consider running cross-country as well. Nick was impressed by this gesture, but he decided to still play football, rather than run on the cross-country team.
Finally, when Nick was a freshman in high school, his older sister, Katy, convinced him that he should try out for cross-country team instead. He remembers that when he started running that late summer with the cross-country team, “I was excited by the social side of it all. It was nice to meet new people and talk with them while we were running.”
He first enjoyed the competitive aspect of running during his freshman year at time trials, which are used to seed runners for the varsity race the following week. Nick remembers he did so well that he placed fifth on the varsity team. In that moment, Nick discovered that he was a talented runner; it was the first time in his life that he felt really good at something.
“Growing up I didn’t necessarily excel at academics, especially standardized testing,” Nick said. “This was the first time that I saw the benefit of the hard work that I was doing.”
Nick says that he really bonded with his coach, Bob Brown, who became a kind of second father-figure to him. He remembers wanting to do well so that his coach would be proud. When Coach Brown passed away from pancreatic cancer during Nick’s junior year of high school, Nick was deeply affected.
“Bob Brown was really a role model to me. When he passed away, that was a very hard time for me. But it did bring my team closer together and strengthened my passion for running. I wanted to do well for Bob.”
Running also helped Nick to foster leadership qualities. Every summer, he helped coach junior high students, wanting to inspire other people to enjoy running. “I loved helping kids to realize what they can actually do when they put the work in, to recognize they had talent, and to experience the joy of running.”
When Nick Synan was researching colleges in 2009, he recalls, “I really didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to study. I focused on Jesuit colleges that offered classroom sizes of 25 students or fewer, an enclosed campus, an urban vs. rural location close to family, and the opportunity to run.. I had a list of six schools; four were in the Midwest and two were on the East Coast. In the end, I knew that at Fordham I would get out of Iowa, where I grew up, but still be close to my extended family in New York.” Fordham also gave Nick a partial scholarship to run for cross-country and track.
Unfortunately, he got off to a rocky start at Fordham. During his first semester, Nick felt extremely homesick and missed his family and friends. Two weeks before Christmas, he put in a transfer application to St. Louis University, because it was closer to home, and he knew some friends from high school who were going there.
Nick’s parents, however, convinced him to stick it out at Fordham through the spring semester. Over Christmas break, Nick was telling his friends from Iowa about Fordham and their positive feedback helped him to realize all of the opportunities that he had at Fordham and in New York City. He was able to go to concerts, visit museums, attend sporting events, and roam the unique neighborhoods of New York City. Nick returned to Fordham with open eyes and was much happier in his friendships during his second semester. “I felt brave enough to get out of my comfort zone and lucky to meet all these new people.”
At Fordham, Nick didn’t want to lock himself into studying business immediately, so he chose to study in the liberal arts program his freshman year. Sophomore year, he declared his major as Psychology and minored in Business Administration. He realized that he enjoyed his business classes more than his psychology classes, so he flip-flopped the two: majoring in Business Administration with a focus in Marketing and minoring in Psychology. He found that his studies in psychology often connected to what he was learning in marketing.
Running track and cross-country took up a considerable amount of Nick’s time in college. Practice was from 8:00am to 10:30am seven days a week, and three days a week there were afternoon practices from 5:30pm to 6:30pm.
Nick says he doesn’t regret having this schedule in college at all. “It was hard at times, especially on weekends, when everyone was going out. It taught me to be disciplined and prioritize my time. I had to set aside nights to stay in and study. I was actually better at doing things in a timely manner in college than I was in high school.”
Senior year, Nick was captain of the men’s track and cross-country teams at Fordham. He found this leadership role both challenging and rewarding. “In college, there are so many great athletes competing, and it’s hard to give orders to a group of guys in their 20s, especially when you’re friends with them.”
He found his role varied from being a disciplinarian to being a mentor. He remembers one of his favorite parts of being a captain included hosting pasta dinners before meets and cooking for all of his teammates. “As a team, we were inseparable. We took a lot of classes together. We ate our meals together. We were very close, and we still keep in good touch.
As graduation was nearing, Nick began asking his professors for contacts and submitting resumes and applications for positions in sales, hospitality, and marketing. Direct Energy, the first company to respond to him, was a commercial sales company that offered a flat-rate for energy to local businesses. The position offered Nick no salary, and his pay would be entirely based on sales commission.
Nick was told he would be going door-to-door to different businesses in Sunnyside, Queens. After five days of training and five days of shadowing a co-worker, Nick was on his own making cold calls. He made no money the first two days. “I made one deal and decided to quit after a week and a half of only making 80 bucks. I blew that paycheck on one grocery trip.”
The fall after graduation, Nick was feeling the pressure to find a job. “I was moving into the city with my sister, and I knew I needed to find a job as soon as possible. I became more focused on the hospitality industry. I walked into every hotel from the Upper East Side to Midtown, but most of them didn’t get back to me for a long time.”
Finally, Nick e-mailed one of his Fordham marketing professors, and she encouraged him to use LinkedIn to make the most of his alumni connections. Through LinkedIn, Nick found he had a Fordham connection to a person that worked at New York Road Runners, a non-profit organization best known for organizing the NYC marathon. The alumni connection forwarded Nick’s resume onto an HR representative, who then contacted Nick. After speaking to the HR representative at NYRR, Nick felt strongly that this was the company – and the career – for him.
He liked that it was a non-profit organization, encouraged kids to run, and incorporated a partnerships and business aspect that he enjoyed. When an internship opened up in NYRR’s business development and strategic partnerships division, Nick took the job, working there for four months before being offered a part-time position as a Coordinator in the Business Development and Partnerships Division. He worked part-time for two and a half months, and then was finally offered a full-time position as a Coordinator.
His work includes partnering with Snyder’s of Hanover, Phillips Healthcare (makers of defibrillators and AED machines), and the NY Apple Association to provide equipment and food for races. The New York City Marathon is the biggest race that they work on, but they also continually plan a variety of other races: races to help raise money for different causes, races for children to participate in, and general weekly races.
Nick says that the Brooklyn half-marathon has been his favorite race to plan so far. This is the second largest half-marathon in the country, taking place every May. “Working at the finish line, the energy was incredible. I liked seeing how appreciative the runners were of the work that we do. It’s amazing that a person who has just started running gets to participate in the same race as an Olympic athlete. These events bring all these people of different ages and levels of skill together, and somehow it makes each race that we do completely different.”
New York Road Runners also helps to fund physical education in many of the public schools in NYC. The organization sets up programs to encourage kids to run in events, and representatives from Road Runners go into the schools to help teach Physical Education. Mighty Milers, a running program for kids of all fitness levels from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, is another program that NYRR helps to organize to get kids exercising. Road Runners also has a large outreach program for senior citizens.
Nick really appreciates the friendly and charismatic colleagues that he works with at New York Road Runners. “There are people who are big runners, and others who don’t run at all. They are all a part of the team, helping runners to accomplish their goals.” Right now, Nick is training for the Chicago marathon in October. He enjoys running with people from the office after work and friends from Fordham. “I like running now even more than when I was in college. Sometimes it’s hard to find the time, but I also no longer have the pressure to perform at a certain level. I do it purely for enjoyment.”