Nancy Rosenfeld Lewis recalls being “so scared” when, as a sophomore at Suffern, she won the 600-meter run at the New York State indoor championships. She also remembers being “petrified” at the 1982 U.S. Junior Nationals outdoors in Los
Angeles, where she finished fifth in the 800 meters in a still-standing Rockland County record time (2:09.22) and the ninth-fastest clocking in the c o u n t ry that year among schoolgirls.
Amazing what a little adrenaline can do, isn’t it? Of course, Lewis had more going for her than pre-race jitters. Her winter track coach, Joe Biddy, said she “demonstrated greater range than any individual that I have ever coached” – male or female. Any distance from 200 meters to the mile was fair game for Lewis, who enjoyed her greatest success in the middle distance events of 600 yards/meters, 800 meters and 1,000 yards/meters.
Judged by her numbers, Lewis, a 1983 Suffern graduate, ranks as one of the pre-eminent track athletes in the annals of Rockland track and field. Among her top accomplishments are the following:
Three-time individual state champion, twice in the winter at 600 meters and once in the spring at 800 meters.
A member of two state championship relays, one each in the winter and spring. Eight-time Rockland County champion, four each in the winter and spring.
Five-time champion in Section 9 (Rockland, Orange, Ulster, Sullivan counties), twice in the winter and three times in the spring.
Holds six Rockland County records: the outdoor 800 meters (2:09.22), and the indoor 600 meters (1:33.22), 800 meters (2:10.3), 1,000 yards (2:33.92), 1,000 meters (2:56.3), and 1,500 meters (4:40.6). She also shares the record in the 500 meters (1:15.9) with former archrival Debbie Grant of Ramapo.
Lewis then known as Nancy Rosenfeld and Grant waged many spirited duels and helped push each other to national-caliber performances. Although both were quiet and unassuming, on the track they were “fierce competitors,” Lewis remembers.
“I truly want her to know how much she helped me during my high school running career, Lewis says of Grant. “She was an amazing competitor and a true inspiration to me. She motivated me and pushed me to achieve things that I never imagined.”
Although her highlight reel is brimming with gold-plated moments, Lewis considers two races the most memorable for her. The first was her 600-meter triumph at the 1981 indoor state meet, LEWIS as a “naive and inexperienced” sophomore. Running in racing flats borrowed from a friend – a common practice for her throughout her high school career – Lewis remembers being boxed in on the inside lane in the final lap. When Coach Biddy bellowed, “Get to the outside!” she made a sudden move, practically bowling over runners outside of her. She dropped to the back, then surged past one runner after another on the outside.
“I ended up winning the race, but was surprised I wasn’t disqualified,” Lewis says. When she returned to school the following week, the Suffern high school principal recounted the weekend’s athletic highlights among the morning announcements. When he got to the state meet results, Lewis recalls, his final comment was, “Who is Nancy Rosenfeld?”
She shed her anonymity quickly. Her other memorable moment came in the 1982 U.S. Junior National championship at UCLA, where she traveled by plane for the first time and shared the experience with Tom McTaggart, Suffern’s girls’ spring track coach, and Grant and her coach, Matt Mulligan. After the race, she became very homesick. “I actually bypassed a trip to Disneyland and returned home to my family and friends. What was I thinking?”
There were many other outstanding performances, such as her triple victories in the 300-600- and 1,000-meter runs in the Section 9 Class A championships her junior year.
“In all the years that I have coached,” Biddy says, “I have never seen anyone even attempt that combination of events. She also ran a 2:11.4, 800-meter anchor leg on Suffern’s winning indoor sprint medley relay at the Record Assault Invitational at Yale in 1983. The relay set a state record (4:06.41) that stood for seven years.
After graduating from Suffern, Lewis earned a full track scholarship to the University of Virginia, but a serious illness sidetracked her running career. However, she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Virginia in 1988 and a master’s degree in occupational therapy from New York University in 1992. She married Jim Lewis in 1992 and the Lewises have two children, Matthew, 10, and Jonathan, 6, who play soccer, baseball and basketball. The Lewises live in Moorestown, N.J. Lewis, who is 39, is an occupational therapist and has worked in many settings including rehabilitation centers, acute care hospitals and nursing homes. She currently works part-time at Kingsway Learning center, a private special education school in Haddonfield, N.J. She works with elementary and middle school children with learning disabilities.
Lewis looks back fondly on her years at Suffern. “I was extremely fortunate to have several wonderful coaches who took an honest interest in me both as a runner and as an individual,” she says, citing Biddy, McTaggart and Pete Wendrychowicz. “They differed tremendously in their personalities and training styles, but made my running career both interesting and exciting. They taught me what hard work, dedication and determination can lead to.”
“I was also surrounded by many amazing teammates,” she adds. “I have nothing but awesome memories of our times together training, traveling, competing and just having fun. The Suffern High School track team was like a family. We took care of each other and really cared for one another. My time on the team will hold a special place in my heart forever.”