It took Rick and me a month to actually take some time and sit down for a talk, but I was really glad that this conversation finally happened.
Rick was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama (somewhat of a Mecca for college football). His early years even included an introduction to the University of Alabama’s legendary head football coach, Bear Bryant. But early childhood winters also included trips to Colorado to ski….and summer ski camps at Mammoth Mountain in California. Rick was not even the first male in his family to enroll at the University of Colorado- or the first to join the CU ski team. His older brother lead the way in that regard. Though he also played youth soccer, the skiing is what drew him to this state (and helped change any residual accent that he might have harbored when he came). Though he admits he wasn’t good enough to be an ‘A-Team’ skier for CU, it was an experience he still cherishes today and was a big contributor to his passion for the world of sport. He shared that he later came to the realization that sports was one of what he calls the three “sexy” industries (sports, booze, and music). In other words, the demand to work in them far outweighs the supply.
As soon as he graduated, he and a girlfriend were attending a Sting concert when he struck up a conversation with a woman seated next to him who had a connection that worked for the Denver Nuggets. She encouraged him to give that person a call to see if he could get in the door – and he did (as a two-day-a-week, and game nights, unpaid intern). It was just after the 1991 season when the Nuggets were the worst team in the league. While working those few days for the Nuggets, he was also helping out with a small radio advertising startup. To provide some sort of income he additionally worked as a ski tech at Gart Brothers in Boulder. With his hard working ethic, he eventually moved into corporate sales and sponsorships for the Nuggets. Following the purchase of the Quebec Nordiques (soon to be the Colorado Avalanche) he took over as director of game operations for both teams, overseeing the flow of everything that happened in the arena on game nights.
In 1996, he left the teams to attend the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, AZ to further his worldwide business interests and to procure an MBA. He had backpacked in Europe, Mexico and Ecuador and learned to speak Spanish- and so had gained a interest in global markets.
He later spent three years at a tech distribution company in Tempe, then headed back to Colorado to work for McData from 2001-2007, which provided the opportunity to take on several international projects, including a six-week stint in Beijing, China, putting his international experience to good use. When that company was acquired in 2007, he finished up his responsibilities with the new owners and headed out into the world for a year and half of international travel to Southeast Asia and Latin America.
But this is where it gets even more interesting. Before Lance Armstrong’s career took an unfortunate turn, he hatched the idea (while on a ride outside of Aspen) of a professional bike race being held in Colorado. As the story goes, Lance reached out to then Governor Ritter about the idea. The owners of Quiznos/founders of Smashburger agreed to fund the event. After his former boss from the Nuggets (who also started the Amgen Tour of California) signed on to be CEO, Rick, who had grown up watching the Tour de France during the Greg LeMonde years riding his own bicycle right on the white lines of Birmingham to avoid car traffic, quickly joined the team to help make it happen. The organizers had six months to develop a course, work with host cities and develop a human work force to bring it to fruition. Medalist Sports was brought on to cover the logistics. The time frame was set for the third week of August to draw some of the biggest names from international cycling to the inaugural USA Pro Challenge.
Sponsorship would provide 90% of all the revenue for the event and millions of dollars were budgeted to make the race a reality. Rick visited the Tour of California prior to the Colorado event for a “behind the scenes” look at the operation and also had the opportunity meet Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin. One of the big draws for the international teams seemed to be that the host towns of Colorado were relatively cushy compared to some of the small European villages that hosted stopovers for the continental tours. Breckenridge, Aspen, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Telluride and Durango welcomed the summer traffic that a cycling tour could offer- especially if it drew crowds similar to those of the European tours. TV coverage required planes and helicopters in the air to cover the action and enable the broadcasting of the images/audio to the country and world. Unfortunately during the first year of coverage, bad weather prevented just that coverage during the descent into Aspen from Independence Pass. The wings of the plane started to ice up and it was forced to abandon the area for safety reasons. (TJ Van Garderen subsequently breathed a sigh of relief that his wife did not have the chance to see him defying life and limb on his downhill scream into Aspen where George Hincapie passed him in the final 100 yards for the win). Rick even had a chance to indulge his photographic interests from the back of a motorcycle that first year. But that went haywire also when the shutter of his camera started to malfunction. With a non-working camera they decided to get ahead of the race “envelope” and make their way to the finish. Without the police escort, the moto was barely able to get through the massive crowd along Swan Mountain Road on the way into Breckenridge. Rick compared it to what it must be like to ride through the overwhelming crowds of cycling fans lining the Alpe d’Huez during the Tour de France, “it was incredible”.
Unfortunately the USA Pro Challenge ended in 2015 after five years and Rick headed back to his more uneventful jobs in sports marketing. For two years he worked with a sports software company that specialized in youth sports. After reconnecting with a former colleague from McData, he now works with a software startup called Makeena (which means ‘abundance’ in Hawaiian) helping consumers lead healthier (more nutritional) lives and helping natural products brands to satisfy those consumer needs.
Rick still loves to ride Lookout Mountain and some of the one-day organized rides around the state. He also looks forward to riding overseas, an indulgence that has always interested him, but of which he has not taken full advantage of during his previous travels around the globe.