One Race, Three Champions, Three Lessons

Recently, a non-profit invited their tribe to the woods. The invite guaranteed the following: limited cell reception, almost no running water, no flushing toilets, complete separation from civilization, and an epic weekend of riding bicycles in the Lost Sierra. Seven hundred cyclists headed the call and were followed by a thousand volunteers and spectators. The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship builds and restores multi-use trails while operating a guide service and hosting bicycle races in the interest of recreation based economic development. Our event,The Lost and Found Gravel Grinder, allows world class professionals and cycling enthusiasts to explore some of the most beautiful country on earth while discovering what lies inside of them.  

Some ride, some race, and some survive. My possession of the microphone put me in the midst of the chaos. This year I learned a valuable lesson: The diversity found among the champions is what makes them amazing! I found three champions among the crowd that stood out. The finisher, the winner, and the tribe builder all had different paths to victory.

1) Championships Are Relative and Amazing When Shared

SBTS tribe member Haley Crystal Cutter is a great cyclist. Normally, she is pedaling fast with a smile on her face.  For this event I was surprised to see her feeling a bit more relaxed than usual.   She was doing the ride with her Mom Lisa, who turned 60 last year and has MS. Haley describes her mother’s success with biking:

“When her MS started to prevent her from being able to run (she’s always been an avid runner) she went to see a physical therapist in Nevada City to see what she could do about it. He told her that there’s is nothing you can do to stop the effects of MS but he told her that she should start riding a bike. She wasn’t too happy with his response and never went back to physical therapy again but she did start riding. She ran into that physical therapist at the race, he was camping next to us and he was VERY impressed and excited that she not only took his advice, but was riding a 30 mile race! He had tears in his eyes when he congratulated her at the finish.”

Lisa Cutter and her daughter Haley finishing an amazing 30 mile ride.

Lisa Cutter and her daughter Haley finishing an amazing 30 mile ride.

The PT wasn’t the only one with tears in his eyes.  Lisa trained and Haley took on the role of mentor, encourager, and riding partner. In this amazing story, two champions used this special event to find some common ground, set a goal, plan, train, and ultimately define winning on their own terms.

The Lesson of Champion 1:  Winning is often relative and the sweetest victories happen without a podium.  

2) The Fastest Man Within a Thousand Miles Is Fueled By What May Catch Him

It is OK to be motivated by what is behind you. There are a hundreds of both humorous and serious examples about being pulled rather than pushed; however, in racing, the thing that may catch you is often King. Carl Michael Decker is a 5 X Downieville all mountain champion, national road racing champion, single speed world champion, and all around great guy.  

Carl Michael Decker at the moment he decided the fear of being chased is worth it. Photo: The Metal Mike

Carl Michael Decker at the moment he decided the fear of being chased is worth it. Photo: The Metal Mike

He won the race by a significant margin against some of the nation’s fastest riders. The most interesting thing about his ride was how the fear of being caught fueled his speed. Although it is possible that he could have won if he had just focused on his training and his pedal stroke, his focus on those behind him is what makes his story applicable to real life.

‘I was cramping up, coming apart, looking over my shoulder, it was like a horror video.’  Carl Decker in CX Magazine

The lesson of champion 2:  It is ok to be motivated by what may catch you.  

3) Tribe Builders Are The Most Powerful Among Us

Individual contributors are amazing. They produce, they race, they win, they show up, and they close deals. They are, in many ways, the fuel that drives sports industries and economies; however, every star and every story needs a stage. These stages include everything from races to mortgage offices. The bigger the tribe, the better the tribe. The more aligned the tribe, the bigger the story.  A champion of a race that no one cares about isn’t much of a champion. The champion of a 20 Yr old race that generates millions of impressions per year is something to talk about.   

After the Lost and Found, in its 3rd year of near 100% annual growth, the team was exhausted.  Everyone had gone, the trash was picked up and the sun slowly set. I stood on a small hill and watched below as the crew, sponsorship, race director, trail boss, program director and executive director all drank beer and reflected on a successful event.

Greg Williams, Executive Director of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship talking about how to build the tribe. Photo courtesy of Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association

Greg Williams, Executive Director of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship talking about how to build the tribe. Photo courtesy of Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association

After the first week, the event has translated into five articles, thousands of social engagements, and the confidence that we can grow another 100% next year. Not just a race, but an experience.

At dinner after the event, the builder of the tribe and executive director of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, Greg Williams, stood at the end of the table and declared:  “Look around.  No one did any of this, we all did this.”

Tribe builders don’t get enough credit.  Any truly sustainable endeavor thrives because of the belief people place in it.  We call it culture in business, Greg has a hard time labeling it for the non-profit, but none the less, it is supremely important. Tribe builders are the unsung champions of sport and business.

The lesson of champion 3:  The tribe is the most important indicator of long term success.

I love big events, I love seeing the stories unfold first hand.  I encourage you to celebrate the champions that don’t stand on the podium, those that actually show up and win and those that bring you together.  Each of them are integral parts of our experience and our success.