What is your official title?
Co-owner of Gazelle Sports.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
I get up around 4:30am, make some coffee, check my emails, read one or two articles, and then I journal, or meditate, or pray; that gets me into the day. I then either have early meetings or early workouts to attend – I go in different directions depending on the day.
Then my days are full of planning and engaging the community, and working with Gazelle Sports staff towards our vision and our goals. I’m really not in day-to-day operations like I used to be, so my meetings might be with people in the community about the Kalamazoo Marathon, or maybe what’s happening downtown with DKI, or it might be meeting with the Local First board to talk about My Local Treasures, which promotes finding small business local treasures. I wear the hat of community builder, of business builder, and of brand evangelist.
Can you tell us about the history of Gazelle Sports?
It started with two guys, Bruce Johnson and myself, and we were trying to buy a business that we were both working in called The Athlete Shop. That didn’t end up working out, but we loved what we were doing. We didn’t have a lot of business background – he had a philosophy degree from Kalamazoo College, and I was a biomedical science/chemistry guy at Western. Between the two of us, we had no business sense, but we loved what we were doing, which was promoting health and active living.
So, we opened our own store; that was God’s grace bending us towards doing something ourselves. We opened in 1985 – 28 years ago – and made our first major mistake by promoting that we would open December 7, and unfortunately the store officially became ours on December 1st. We had to build a store, put in all of the merchandise, and stock everything in a week. Thankfully family and friends showed up, and by the last day before opening, around 60 people showed up to help us, which was really apropos of Gazelle Sports, because we are all about community.
And that was our start! The first day we were open, we had some friends help, Bruce stayed in the store, and I went out to the West Hills Run and Chill, which was a four-mile race, and promoted the store; everything just evolved from there.
What kind of projects are you currently working on?
Internally we’ve just built our strategic plan for 2014-2016. We have five priorities within that, and I am on the growth team, so we are looking for opportunities for growth, which we are deciding shortly and can make some announcements.
We are also opening a Lolë store, which is a women’s brand, in East Grand Rapids in 2014. We are going to be the second Löle store in the country, and we’re really excited about opening because it’s such a great line.
I’m a part of the DKI Strategic Review Team, so I’m helping downtown redefine how we can exist with a limited budget. I’m the chair of communications and events, so we are working on how we maintain our events and communicate what downtown’s really all about.
I am also the Chair of Local First. Local First West Michigan is in Kent and Ottawa county, and it really activates small business about building community; it’s not just about buying local, it’s about environmental sustainability, it’s about loving the place that you live, and it’s about social justice. It’s about making your community the best it can be.
Lastly, I am on the IRRA board, it’s a national board for the Independent Running Retail Association. We are working on trying to maintain a strong distribution channel for bricks and mortar versus the internet. If you can’t tell I’m a joiner, and I like to sit on boards – not just to sit on boards, but to be very active on them and to support what I love.
Can you tell us about the different events that you host?
I’m going to estimate that we’re in about 150 a year, and that’s all the way from a small event in Lowell, MI to a large event like the Riverbank Run that’s 20,000 plus. One of the things I’m most proud of is the Gazelle Sports events are fundraisers for charities.
Our next event is called Run Through the Lights, and it’s co-hosted with Kalamazoo Area Runners. It’s a fundraiser for Loaves and Fishes. The One One Run on the first of the year is a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club, and last year we raised just shy of $30,000 for them.
We do things like the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon and 5K, and last year we raised $49,000 for three charities: the YWCA, GROW, which helps support women’s entrepreneurship, and Kent County Girls on the Run. Those are just a few, but they’re all things that we’re really passionate about. They’re fun events.
We also host weekly running events, like Urban Herd on Wednesday nights, and on Sundays we have Dirty Herd, which is a trail run. Each month we like to throw in something kind of crazy, so a couple of weeks ago, we had the Checkpoint Challenge, where people ran around town and earned different things at various checkpoints. We had our vendors, like New Balance and Saucony, involved, and it was so much fun.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
Well, if you’ve ever seen me give a talk, I always start off by saying “I love Kalamazoo.” I grew up here, but what I really love is the ability to collaborate and work together. There’s a real sense of possibility when people come together. I love being implanted in the way groups solve problems together instead of isolating each other or just letting things happen.
What can be done to improve Kalamazoo?
I think we need to improve the ability to connect between races and socioeconomic groups. There’s a long way to go, and if people don’t work on it, then we all lose. I’m really pleased with what People’s Food Co-op is doing with ERASE; it’s about eliminating racism, and just being engaged in that conversation and finding ways to move it forward.
From my standpoint, what I’m about is health and movement, so I want to help motivate people. I see that when people have the opportunity to move, it opens the door to other things; it connects people socially, it makes people feel better about themselves, and you can accomplish a meaningful goal. There’s something that movement does that creates more opportunities to improve all aspects of health, so I want to help expand that. I think Kalamazoo needs to continue to expand that.
What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?
I’m like a funk jazz guy. Thievery Corp. is my favorite.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
I love coffee. I take my coffee black, and then I do a four shot Americano. Something’s Brewing is my favorite place to go locally.
What is your favorite app to use?
I don’t do a lot of apps, but to tell you the truth, I love emoji’s, because I love sending the little symbols to my family. I get into these group texts with the family – I have kids and grandkids that live in California, and my youngest son goes to George Mason out in Virginia, so we’re all sending the little emoji’s to each other; it’s just joyful.
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
Other than Gazelle, I love to run on the Kal-Haven Trail; that’s my go-to spot for running. I love to walk or bike on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail with my wife, which is awesome. And I love the Nature Center.
What is the history of Run Camp?
11 years ago, Blaine Lam and I were out on a run, and we were talking about how we could build more participation for the Borgess Run. We thought that people needed to train through the winter together, and that could possibly build more participation.
We had a stretch goal of about 4,000 people in the Borgess Run. The Borgess Run had just turned into a half marathon at that time. We started run camp and had just over 100 people our first year, and it’s grown every year since.
This year, we have almost 100 team leaders, so we are expecting over 1,000 run campers. One of the great things about Run Camp is not that it’s big, but that is has the small groups. We have co-team leaders with groups of 20-15 people that become a little family and support each other through the week and every Saturday morning. And that’s the magic of it; the people who support those pace teams are truly amazing.
Then there’s the structure, organization and discipline of it. We have people out on the course handing out water, we have food at the end, we have aid stations; our volunteers make it happen. And because of all of that, we’re the biggest training group in the nation.
It’s cool because you add in the other local running groups who are training through the winter – some have spun off from Run Camp to start their own groups. That’s what I call Run Camp Nation! It’s amazing – you look anywhere, and there’s a group of people out running. I’m really proud of run camp.
If Gazelle Sports could speak, what would it say?
Gazelle Sports wants to enable all people in our community. We are trying to not just be our own little bubble. We want to help change people’s lives through movement. We’re doing some things with different groups, churches, neighborhoods, and schools that are unique and new.
We are launching ‘On the Move Kalamazoo’, which will be announced in 2014. It’s a coalition of organizations led by Gazelle Sports and Western Michigan University. With this program, we are going to be able to look at measurables surrounding our community’s health as it’s related to the American Fitness Index.
Another thing is over the summer, we went through a long, difficult certification process to become a B Corporation. A B Corporation is about financial transparency, creating meaningful work for employees, community engagement, and environmental stewardship. We are very excited to be a part of 900 corporations across the country that value these important factors.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
First, I wanted to be a pirate; I liked the whole pirate thing early on. As I got older, I clicked into this whole science thing and I wanted to be a doctor, and be engaged in supporting people’s health. That was the dream, until I decided I was sick of school, and luckily, I was able to create my own environment where I still got to do that!
What kind of advice would you give a first time marathoner?
Here’s a few things. Number one, you don’t want to build up too fast. You don’t try to run as far as you can, and should start with the easier, lower mileage program. Rest days or cross training days are critical. And on the event day, you definitely want to know your pace; that’s the biggest thing. You’ll be in great shape and you’ll want to go too fast too soon and can easily burn out. Those are the three big things.