Technology innovator; Comets president leading re-imagined CycleNation

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The American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, is hosting CycleNation to raise awareness about stroke being the nation’s No. 5 killer – and to raise the funds to change the statistic.

Dr. Gerard Capraro, founder of Capraro Technologies, and Rob Esche, president and founder of the Utica Comets, are leading the Mohawk Valley’s CycleNation, which will culminate in a digital celebration on World Stroke Day, Oct. 29. The celebration will have two parts: a local digital event from noon to 1 p.m., and the national digital event from 6:30-7 p.m., where participants in all the CycleNation events across the country will come together. 

Between now and then, Capraro and Esche are recruiting and challenging CycleNation participants to bike, hike, run, walk, or whatever kind of exercise they want to do, to help the country achieve One CycleNation’s goal of getting 1 million miles of exercise, and raise $1 million.

For Capraro, this is another facet of his long-time support of the American Heart Association.

“I believe in this organization,” Capraro said. “Heart disease and stroke are major issues for everyone. We need to get people involved in CycleNation, and all the Heart Association events, and get them exercising more and eating better.” 

“Jerry and Pam Mustee at the American Heart Association showed me how CycleNation can positively impact people,” Esche said. “I was excited about filling the Adirondack Bank Center with cycling participants, but then we ran into COVID, which made us all pivot. With a digital experience, we can still tie our athletes into raising awareness about stroke and heart disease. Health and wellness is a space that athletes can get behind.”

Capraro has been part of the Mohawk Valley chapter of the American Heart Association for more than eight years, serving on the Board of Directors, and chairing The Executive Challenge of America’s Greatest Heart Run and Walk. His company has also built custom software for America’s Greatest Heart Run and Walk, and for last year’s inaugural CycleNation.

“We were really proud that our CycleNation last year was the fifth-highest fund-raising CycleNation in the country,” Capraro said.

Capraro is the founder of Capraro Technologies, which he described as three companies in one. One part is an IT business; one part is software development; and the third is work for the U.S. Department of Defense. Some of his software applications include Utica 311 and RomeNY 311, which are information reporting Apps for residents of those cities.

“I love research,” Capraro said. “I started my career at the United States Air Force’s Research Lab. I got my master’s degree and Ph.D. while working there, and have also taught at Syracuse University.” 

Capraro is from Utica and a graduate of Utica College of Syracuse University. At 76, he still runs.

Esche, a Whitesboro native, described himself as “just a hockey player.” After graduating from St. Francis Cabrini in Detroit, he played in the AHL for a year, then went up to the NHL. He played 10 years in the NHL, with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Arizona Coyotes. After that, he played hockey in Russia and Switzerland.

“I was honored to represent our country nine times with Team USA in the Olympics, the World Cup and World Juniors,” he said.

When he retired from hockey, it was an easy decision to return home.

“Utica has a lot of intangible assets, like the community feel and the sports, that make it a great place to bring up children,” he said. “When I retired, it was the only place to come to. Utica has great values, and it’s a great place to raise a family.”

Esche lives in downtown Utica. His girlfriend is Cecelie Pikus. Esche has two children, a 19-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. He is also the president and founder of Save of the Day Foundation, which he started 17 years ago to help children with life-threatening illness.

He has been a financial supporter of the American Heart Association, and is looking forward to growing CycleNation.

“From the local perspective, this event has a chance to really stretch its legs and grow into a marquee event,” he said. “This is the fun part, getting in on the ground floor of CycleNation. If we double down and we lean into it, we can bring a lot of health and wellness to the community.”

Capraro also has a commitment to health and wellness, for the community, and personally.

“It’s use it or lose it,” Capraro said about health. “You’ve got to keep moving. We had a great CycleNation event last year, and I encourage everyone to be part of our new abnormal environment, and join our digital event. It’s important for people to stay healthy. By doing their own kind of exercise this month and tracking it, they can improve their own health. At the same time, they can raise money so the American Heart Association can fund research and solve the problem of heart disease and stroke.”

“Jerry and Rob are standing by the American Heart Association in a challenging time,” said Steve Gassner, administrative officer at Mohawk Valley Water Authority and chair of the Utica Board of Directors of the American Heart Association. “Stroke and heart disease aren’t on pause during the pandemic, and since people can participate in CycleNation anyway they want, then join our digital events, we’re able to bring it to a broader audience. With Jerry and Rob’s leadership, I know it will be a successful year.”

For more information go online to CycleNation.org/Utica.

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