The word “inventor” invokes an image in each of our minds, most likely of someone from at least a century ago. For me, it’s Benjamin Franklin getting struck by lighting while flying a kite with a key at the end of it. Maybe for you it’s Thomas Edison, or the actor in the Social Network playing Mark Zuckerburg… and you think “wow what a jerk that guy was”. “Inventor” isn’t a common, or even socially acceptable occupation anymore but the concept of such a person is clear: inventors are totally daring, genius, and unafraid to expose their most thoughts for the purpose of making something new and better.
Jeremy Nelson, of ROLL Recovery, is an inventor that is no different. Years ago, he had an idea for a running recovery tool, and has since put everything that his mind, body, and bank account could possible afford into making it work. What makes ROLL Recovery truly different though, is that he’s far from being alone in the process. What began with Jeremy and his elite marathoner wife, Adriana Nelson, producing the R8 models by hand from the garage has blossomed into a small collection of elite runners (Olympians, All-Americans, an NYC Marathon winner) in an office warehouse on the outskirts of Boulder, CO, working together to bring the running community high quality models of the R8 while at the same time sending positive, supportive vibes to the running community.
We, the athletes, must be the only hard-working fairytale stories just trying to make it in this big old world, right? Well, in the case of ROLL Recovery, the gap between “seller” and “sellee” disappears as we come to know that they are also hard-working athletes just trying to make it in the big world. They just happen to do so while also helping fellow athletes along the way. Rather than try to explain the scientific terms of the R8 (I’m no scientist) and how it might benefit you as an athlete, I’d like to try to relate just how unique and special what they have is. And how it might re-inspire your belief in the running world’s values that at times seem shaky. So we’ll start at the top of how I came to know the ROLL Recovery team:
My experience with the R8 and ROLL Recovery began much other runner’s.
“OOO what’s this? I’m gonna put it on my head. What’s it like to roll out my abs? Haha. That’s not working at all. Let’s try my butt.”
It’s the basic “I think I’m funny” person approach to the funky new design of something we’ve done for years: recover. I guess we didn’t really question how weird those other massage devices were did we? Foam? In cylinder form? No problem. Roll thingy designed by engineer and runner? Woah, this is wild.
But then I started seeing R8’s everywhere on Instagram, the twitters of pro athletes and a few lucky high school and college athletes as well. Spotting an R8 in person was rare, so whenever a teammate had one, it was like the bop-it of the team dinner/get together. (we still know what bop it is, right? Twist it, flick it, bop it, pass it?) And it really helped! It hurt so good, and we all wanted one.
Strangely, I didn’t even know that ROLL Recovery was founded and based out of Boulder until meeting Jeremy at his tent at this year’s 2015 USA Cross Country Championships in Boulder. Again, I was attracted to the R8 he had out as a tester, and my teammate and I made our way over to mooch off of it for our sore legs. Jeremy immediately began talking to us about our running, college, and everything else. We thought he was a cool employee. Then we started asking him “so you’re a runner too right?” And to our embarrassment, he humbly shared that he was the founder, CEO, and entrepreneur behind the whole company.
He told us his tale of going to Stanford after CSU, how he hated taking tests (although after studying mechanical engineering he must’ve been like, OK at tests), and how he and his elite marathoner wife, Adriana Nelson, had put everything into the R8. They had sold their house, worked out of the garage, and put everything they had on the line to get the business started. Needless to say, we had a good talk in the tent. I liked how relatable Jeremy was and how easy it was to talk to such a big contributor to the running world. I asked if he needed interns. He said maybe, gave me his email and that was that. I continued using the R8 while a growing numbers of friends invested in them, and thought how awesome it would be to become an entrepreneur like he had. Months later, actually just a few weeks ago, I recalled ROLL’s awesome story while writing a brief column about it as a Boulder start-up. I emailed Jeremy to get more information, but I accidentally called him Jason. He was understanding and said it happens a lot, but I’m 98% sure that’s not true. How many times can one person mess up another person’s identity? Hopefully not more than twice.
While trying to get an interview for the column, I didn’t have the chance to speak with Jeremy again because he was off traveling to events and races. I called ROLL Recovery’s office and heard the familiar voice of CU XC/Track alum, Andy Wacker. This honestly wasn’t a surprise at all because Andy Wacker is literally in 100% of Boulder at all times. Any Boulder runner will confirm this. You can’t go somewhere without seeing Andy. You actually can’t go anywhere in the world without seeing him. He’s kicking down tape across finish lines, running up and around the Swiss Alps and I once ran into him on a Tuesday night at Smashburger, the one and only time I have ever eaten there.
I wasn’t surprised Andy works with ROLL Recovery either, because hearing him talk about the product and the company made me see just how much he loved it, and how much he feels like he’s part of something bigger than a recovery tool. The phone call lasted less than 20 minutes, but he spoke of the company like it was his own and I got everything I needed without even needed to talk to Jeremy. In fact, I may have gotten more. Hearing an employee speak of the company’s history, mission and goals gave me a more in depth insight to what was actually going on out there in East Boulder. I got a glimpse of their authenticity and how they seem to blur the boundaries between friends, coworkers, and employees.
I learned that each of the employees (aside from Jeremy, who claims he’s not competitive enough to race anymore) are elite professional runners. And there are less than 10 of them altogether. Believe it or not, the average marathon time at ROLL Recovery, across all the staff is a 2:24. This has to be some kind of world record for a company.
Carlos Trujillo, Adriana Nelson, Anuta Catuna, Jeremy Nelson, Samuel Wu, Nuta Olaru, Matt Hensley, and Andy Wacker all have different “job titles” to delegate the tasks at ROLL recovery, but each also spends a great deal of time helping in the warehouse on the R8 tools themselves. Though the R8 is no longer made here (Jeremy used to assemble each and every one by hand), they ship to their Boulder warehouse less than fully put together. The team turns up the music, assembles the tools, makes sure every single aspect is up to their standard, and then ships out of the single Boulder location.
Not only is this production impressive, but I also don’t know any other company, especially one that’s had such success so soon, that employs all professional runners. Why? Well, no offense to professional runners, but they aren’t exactly typical 9-5 employee material. This group probably logs around 800 miles a week combined, once before work and generally again during the day. Which means they go through a lot of bagels, coffee, bars, and naps. Getting everyone in the same room at the same time is near impossible, but this works perfectly well for the way things are run at ROLL. They come in when possible, work as hard as they can, and are free to enjoy pursuing the goals each has.
Each of the “employees” races and travels throughout the year to accomplish their goals. And these range from qualifying for the Olympic Trials, all the way to winning the Olympic Trials, major marathons, and besting their lifetime PR’s (which happen to be some of the best in the country). Often when working at race expos, like the Las Vegas Rock’n Roll, the team will also compete in the race the following day. Not surprisingly, they often sweep the wins.
In fact, if you held a convention for the best Romanian-born marathon women living in the United States, a large portion of them would be sitting in ROLL Recovery’s office as we speak. More likely they’d be out running, but they do sometimes come together in the office all at once. Adriana Nelson, Anuta Catuna, and Nuta Olaru were all born in Romania, and each has found great success training and racing in the United States. While Adriana found large success in her undergraduate career prior to becoming a US citizen, she feels much more connected and celebrated while competing for the US. I also heard a rumor that she and Jeremy met in Whole Foods on Pearl St. and have yet to confirm, but if this is true, it seems there may be hope for the rest of us (because we all go to Whole Foods daily, right?). Adriana has competed at the World level, and has a marathon PR of 2:28 from the 2008 London Marathon. She almost came away with a victory in her very first marathon (ever) at the 2007 Chicago Marathon, but was passed just seconds before the line. She had no idea the Ethiopian runner, Berhane Adere was sprinting up behind her, but the runner-up in such a large debut put Adriana right on the marathon maps. Though it was certainly a heartbreak that took some time to get over, she was ultimately happy with a 2nd place finish at a Major Marathon.
Adriana is now spending a large percentage of her time training with the ASICS Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, CA. While she’s not out pounding the trails, track and hills with Deena Kastor, Coach Andrew Kastor and the MTC team, she’s on Skype sessions with ROLL Recovery, brainstorming for future endeavors and running the team’s social media accounts: instagram, twitter, facebook.
Anuta Catuna, “General Operations” at ROLL Recovery is the 1996 NYC Marathon champion, a two-time Olympian representing Romania, and has a marathon PR of 2:26. I’m under the impression that if Anuta touches my R8, my legs might turn to gold after using it. She’s known to organize, perfect details, and work harder than you can imagine… which explains her many titles and commitment to ROLL.
Nuta Olaru also comes from Romania, and also has the title of “Quality Control Manager” in ROLL Recovery. She joined the ranks in 2013 and has since been an invaluable part of the team by helping assemble, experiment, and input ideas for new product development. Nuta is also an Olympian, holds numerous national championships in Romania and is still competing at the top elite level. She and Anuta are both ridiculously kind-hearted and motivated to keep everything they do at the elite level. I guess it’s impossible to let go of the work ethic that propels such successful professional running careers.
The “younger” ROLL Recovery team members are fairly fresh from college, all of which competed at D1 schools, and are enjoying their best 10 years (their 20’s…) while putting every ounce of energy into the sport. They’ve done so much already, but are spry and energetic for the work ahead. Andy Wacker, the everywhere-mountain-man, competed for CU for five years, earning two All-American honors in Cross Country (not an easy feat) and now competes on a national and international level competing in mainly road half marathons. Since graduating from CU, he’s won the San Diego half marathon, and has a half PR of 1:03.
Carlos Trujillo and Andy are proof that Ducks and Buffs can work and train under the same roof. Carlos competed for the University of Oregon until 2009, and has since developed into a speedy marathoner with a PR of 2:14, set in Chicago in 2012. He’s also called a “Quality Controller” and “Events Sales Staffer”, but he specializes in being super duper nice to everyone and running lots of miles.
Matt Hensley directs the retail sales and marketing for ROLL Recovery, which means he’s responsible, in large part, for the R8 being offered in and expanded into many different locations around the country. Currently, the R8 is in over 250 retail locations across the US. Matt has a BA in Advertising and Masters in International Business at University of Florida which comes into play, but it seems he does his job so well because he works on intuition. Matt connects with other runners because he’s not afraid to dream, to support others dreams, and believes anything can happen with hard word. He has large goals for the upcoming year, and there’s no doubt he’ll achieve them.
Last but not least is Jeremy, founder, CEO and inventor behind the whole sha-bang. As mentioned, Jeremy doesn’t compete on an elite level, but enjoys “playing” in the outdoors with his mountain bike, fly-fishing, and essentially anything else that gets him outside and that provides some fun activity. Of course he still trains (he says mainly so he can eat anything he wants), and races when traveling to expos, but says never truly felt the need to win races. This probably comes from his modesty, and never wanting to be overly acknowledged or bragged about. Which is why I am going to brag about ROLL Recovery! Like the others, Jeremy works extremely hard in the warehouse and on product development, but there isn’t a job too big or small at the company for this CEO.
Because each of the ROLL Recovery staff are busy being elite athletes and winning races across the country and world, the warehouse hardly ever has every person there at one time. Right now, members of the ROLL Recovery team are spread out across CO, CA and Switzerland. But somehow, they manage to get each and every R8 out with a personalized sheet saying, “I packed your order” with a bio of the athlete that did in fact pack your order.
Now, they’ve asked me to write their story, not because they want an outsider to verify just how authentic they think they are, but because they know there is something special going on here. And they want another runner to share what that special thing is. So far my experience working with ROLL Recovery hasn’t fallen short of the romantic words Andy gave me over the phone that day.
Just a few days after speaking with Jeremy about helping out with the new website (coming soon), I went to my first event with ROLL, which happened to be at 4 am on the Fourth of July. I know, it was a little early. But because when Matt picked me up and let me use the company card for the biggest coffee in the world, it was all ok. Again, getting to know Matt was similar to my first experience with Jeremy because I was blindsided by his success. He’s now a marathoner that ran for the University of Florida and moved to Boulder for a job at Powerbar before getting inducted into ROLL Recovery as the Sales Manager. He’s run 2:19 for the marathon (at Boston) with hopes of making next year’s Olympic Trials.
Yet rather than telling me this, he immediately just wanted to know my goals, my story and without hardly knowing me at all, pushed me to pursue all of them. He has an unwavering belief that anyone with dedication and hard work can reach their goals. Which may be a part of his girlfriend, Laura Thweatt’s huge jumps in PR’s the last few years. Support and involvement is vital, and he, like everyone else in the ROLL warehouse, does it well. His title may be the “Sales Manager” but he did little at the event to try to “sell” anything to anyone. He mainly asked people about themselves, their goals, their races and their day. The rest happens naturally. People want the R8 because they try it, they think it hurts a lot, that it’s going to do them some good, and because they realize it’s a genuine product coming from genuine people.
Even at the event, a man urged us to get out in the crowd with our R8’s and put our sales-people acts on. But Matt’s response was perfect: “Oh that’s ok. We just want people to try it to make their legs feel better after their races.”
I suspect the future endeavors of ROLL Recovery won’t have much trouble getting picked up by runners either. They have a new product (super secret) coming out that narrows in to target specific problem areas for runners. The best thing about their recovery tools is that they’re made by an engineer that’s also a runner, surrounded by the world’s best guinea pigs: elite runners with ailments that are universal for runners everywhere. Collaborating, experimenting, daring, leaping, and innovating occur in the same warehouse that currently assembles and ships every R8.
ROLL Recovery also plans to unveil plans for more philanthropic work, where they intend to highlight some of the amazing stories of athletes and organizations that help grow and inspire the sports we love. There are amazing things going on in the running community, and ROLL Recovery wants to bring attention to them by giving back a portion of earnings to a selected inspirer while highlighting what they’ve done to better themselves and others. More details on this project will be revealed shortly, as well as other exciting events and happenings with the team that I look forward to sharing with you!
Ultimately, the team at ROLL Recovery produces a product that might make you a better, healthier runner and athlete. But ROLL Recovery goes beyond the R8 by generating a bubble of positive energy in a tight nit group that is soon to explode across the country, bringing more to the sport than their recovery tools. The small team forms a community that the running community as a whole would do well to mimic. I feel so grateful to become a part of the team, and look forward to getting to know each of them better as the ROLL movement spreads further.
– Jenny DeSouchet