To paraphrase Nietzche, “What does not destroy you, makes you strong,” Jon Rocco exemplifies this. He is a Claims/Risk Manager for the Catholic Mutual Group where he oversees the insurance program for the entire Albany Diocese and yearly visits every parish and institution within its territory of fourteen counties. He runs competitively and generally averages in the neighborhood of thirty-five miles per week over the course of the year. He volunteers extensively for the HMRRC and can be seen at nearly every race helping out and usually running, and attends countless meetings. In addition, he enjoys golfing, biking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, beach vacations, summers in Saratoga, and hiking. And, sometimes-just sometimes, he gets to relax!
Jon’s father and two older brothers were athletic. His father played baseball and basketball and coached Little League and CYO Basketball. His mother was an ardent supporter going to every game and meet possible and his parents have been at all the Boilermakers Jon has run. Jon was inspired to run cross country in his sophomore year by his older brother Gary and excelled at this becoming the team captain in his junior and senior years and one of the top runners in his conference. In addition to cross country, Jon was on the wrestling, golf, and track teams. He came from a small high school, Frankfort-Schuyler in Herkimer County that is near Utica, the home of the Boilermaker, which is the race he has run the most with thirty pint glasses to prove it. In his freshman year at SUNY Albany, he ran on the college cross country team but found that it interfered with his studies and everything else going on so he decided not to continue on with the team in his remaining three years there. After graduation he went to work in insurance claims in W. Springfield, MA running only to prepare for his beloved hometown Boilermaker race in July. Years later, he was transferred to Albany a move that transformed his life. He joined the HMRRC in 1993 and in 2003 Team Utopia. That’s when he picked up on his mileage, which he credits to Coach Jim Bowles and the camaraderie of the club.
As a guy who likes numbers and statistics, Jon keeps extensive records. For every year of his running career, he has data charts detailing his races, times, places, pace, PRs, etc. For example, his fastest time in the Boilermaker was 56:12 in 1986 when he was 19. Encouragingly, his second fastest time was this past year, and his third fastest the year before. He has run 19 of his past 21 Boilermakers in under an hour and has loved each one as he gets to meet his hometown friends at the post race party on the grounds of the Saranac Brewery. His first half marathon was in Quebec City in 2003. He went with Russ Hoyer and other friends who encouraged him to go but they were doing the marathon. Jon, however, wanted to tackle the half marathon first since his longest race had been the 15K Boilermaker. He prepared for the race by knowing what his mile splits should be throughout, but everything in Canada was in kilometers. No mile markers here, but it gave the him a challenge that he enjoyed keeping him focused. His time was 1:22:36. Pretty good! In fact, many times Jon loves to compute his splits, distances, and pace time. Figures floating in his head mask any pain that he might experience. Maybe when we see him gritting his teeth, he is actually involved in complex mental computing activities. He said the grimace for which he is famous belies the happiness he experiences while racing and if he should be in pain, it is good pain from giving it all he has.
His first marathon was in Chicago in 2005, and that is the one he still loves the best. He compares it to one’s first love. The race is held in autumn, one of his favorite times of year to run. Interestingly, Ginny Pezulla ran it the same year and she too said the Chicago Marathon is her favorite. Later, Jon went on to run 13 more marathons coming the closest to setting his goal of breaking 2:50 while at the Gansett Marathon in Rhode Island in 2:50:38 in 2011. He has done Boston three times (2006, 2010, and 2014) and to run it meant a lot to him as it is “the granddaddy” of marathons. In addition, he and his entire family are big Red Sox fans and nothing could be more sublime than to race in Boston on Patriots Day and run by Fenway Park.
Jon is a fierce competitor usually placing in his age category. His HMRRC Grand Prix results are very impressive. He placed 3rd in 2004, 2010, and 2014; 2nd in 1995, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011, and 2013; and 1st in 2012, and is presently the leader in his age group in 2015.
Besides being an excellent runner he also excels in his volunteer work for HMRRC. If I were to list every role he has held or holds, this article would be pages long. Instead I will list some of his most prominent roles. He has been the Executive Vice- President and President of HMRRC twice and probably will be again in the future! He has been the Race Committee Chair since 2013, which means he is involved in some way with every club race. He and recent past President, Meghan Mortensen, with whom he has run frequently with, are the co- race directors of the 3rd Winter Series race. He is also the CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge race water coordinator, which involves hydration for over 10,000 runners out on the course at two different stops. In addition, he is now serving on the board of USATF Adirondack. He has won the most prestigious awards the club can bestow: the President’s Outstanding Service Award in 2012, Distinguished Service Award in 2014, and will be inducted into the HMRRC Hall of Fame in February 2016. When asked how he started on his long road of service, he replied that he was asked to be on the Shrader Scholarship Committee back in 2007 and loved the idea of encouraging student scholar-runners with scholarship money to help them along as they moved on to college. One of the familiar Shrader Scholarship winners from HMRRC races is Macky Lloyd.
One of the runners Jon admires and has met is Meb Keflizighi. Meb has said that “Goals form your roadmap to success.” So, what does the future hold for Jon? Obviously, more Boilermakers, but also more marathons too. He wants to do Chicago again, and is tempted by the Marine Corps in D.C. and the Wineglass Marathons in the coming years. He definitely plans to get back to running the Philadelphia Marathon next November which will be just about a week past his 50th birthday which will also be entrance into a new age category. Whatever he chooses to do, we wish him well in his future endeavors and thank him for all he has done to make running better in the Greater Albany area.