Turning Challenges into Success – An Interview with USA Cycling Team member Kerry Werner

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John: Hey everybody! Welcome back to Life is Digital podcast. I’m your host, John Bianchi, here with my co-host for today. Jason Biggs, who’s on our team. Hey Jason, how’s it going?

Jason: It is going great! Thanks for having me on today. I am looking forward to talking with you guys.

Introduction to Kerry Werner

John: Awesome. Well, today we have a very special guest with us, Kerry Werner.

And before I introduce his title, be sure to subscribe to the links below. Give us a like and share the podcast on all of our social channels and go ahead and take a listen on the major podcasting site. So, Kerry, it is an absolute pleasure and I appreciate you coming on onboard this morning. If you don’t mind, everybody, I want to introduce Kerry, He is an American cyclist who rides for the Kona Maxxis Shimano cyclocross team and as a member of Team USA cycling. Kerry, it is awesome to have you this morning. How are you doing?

Kerry: Yeah, everything is good. Trying to look forward to talking to you guys and then getting out for a bike ride because I’m not sure exactly where you’re located, John, but I know for Jason and me, we have some weather coming in this afternoon.

John: Yes, I’m in downtown Raleigh and it was getting dark this morning, so definitely get out there. We won’t keep you too long, but we are so happy to have you here. Kerry, I have to ask you, this is something with high-performance athletes, endurance cycles like yourself, when did you start bike riding? When was the first time you’re like, Hey, was it when you were 40 years old or was there a time when you were like, this is something that is going to become a life passion.

Kerry: Yeah, so my mom put me on a bike when I was really little. I don’t know the exact age, and then I did typical little kid things on bikes, like basically just jumping off of plywood, cinder block jumps kind of stuff. Then when I was about 15, a friend of mine from high school got me into cycling properly, such as a sport rather than a pass time. He’s the one that took me to my first race, and it all kind of spiraled out of control from there in a good way.

John: No, that’s awesome. I think something always interesting to me with athletes is a lot of us might have some passions or hobbies, but this becomes a lifestyle. It becomes something that becomes a part of your psyche.

So to me, I think something that’s been interesting for a lot of listeners is obviously, we’re coming out of the quarantine and the current climate, so this might be an opportunity for people to start either engaging in new activities or really what I like to think of is turning challenges or difficulties into success.

How does Kerry Werner stay focused?

So as we get our conversation started today, I thought that might be something we could chat about is, how do you take hardship, adversity or difficulty, I mean if you’re on a 100-mile bike ride, you’ve got to be taking that mental stamina and input that your body is telling you to get that extra mile. What’s something you do every day to stay focused like that?

Kerry: Yeah, so I have Coach and we work together to figure out a good build into an area of the season when it makes sense to be peaking. When I want to be like really going full gas, and usually that’s around an important event like National Championship or something like that. So all the other stuff is a gradual build. For instance, in a normal ride, it doesn’t take much to get through it and do what I need to do. The workouts are something that takes a little bit more motivation.

John: Sure.

Kerry: Especially when the weather is not cooperating or you got a bunch of other stuff on your to-do list, and you just don’t feel like stealing away or summoning up a little bit of extra energy to go out and get on the bike. In reality, I think that’s not that hard for me because for one, I’m able to prioritize cycling. I am fortunate enough to be sponsored by a bunch of companies that believe in me and want me to do well and succeed so that I can help them succeed.

So I have a good partnership with some companies, and because of that, I’m able to prioritize my cycling. So that kind of takes the majority of my mental focus.

John: Now, that’s an awesome point. And Jason, you and I were talking about this in business as well, just like you mentioned, Kerry, we have key stakeholders, and our key stakeholders are our team and our clients because we want to do the best work for our clients, and then our team members are also invested in the great work that we do.

So, Jason, you had a couple of questions that I think you had mentioned to me that maybe you might have for Kerry on sponsorship and how to develop those relationships, and I’d love to hear from you both about how important it is from the perspective of an athlete about a sport that us as fans do not think about but, how important sponsors are to the overall development of the athlete. We see everybody might have a sports drink that they support, but maybe there’s more science behind that and how you integrate that into your training and to your overall lifestyle.

How to nurture sponsorship relationships

Jason: Yeah, I can kinda lead onto that. That was one of my main focuses I wanted to talk to you about Kerry was because now, it is about when a sponsor becomes engaged and they become a part of you. That is when that sponsor and athlete relationship becomes a business. Right? like for you and them. How have you nurtured those sponsor relationships to make sure that you succeed as an athlete, and that they are also able to get their brand noticed? And be aware that your success is gonna drive people towards buying Kona bikes or some of your other sponsors and their products. How have you kind of incorporated that into keeping them focused and you focused on the main goals?

Kerry: So, I think the biggest thing for me was a kind of adaptability. Especially over the last 5 or 10 years, everybody’s on social media, and so it almost makes your job as a professional cyclist even harder because instead of having a group of people that are looking at you and what you’re doing and what you’re writing, there are thousands of other athletes that are doing the same things on social media, as I am. How do I foster that kind of attention, that a sponsor is wanting from me, to promote their brand, As well as maintaining success for both in the sponsor relationship. So, for me, that’s like adaptability. Results are obviously important, and so on one side, you have to have the drive and the dedication to do the training and make all that work.

But that’s just not enough anymore. You really have to be good at marketing yourself, and not so much in a business way, but you have to just be relatable to people, and you have to get a lot of good quality content that people can relate to and want to see. For me, that started with my blog, which was about two years ago. I started blogging as part of a sponsorship proposal package. I’d never done that before. I didn’t really know what it was about, so I watched one or two online and then kind of just ran with it.

And it’s been really successful. It has been something that has grown over the last two years, and it’s been really fun for me to do because, it is fun to see something that you make grow, but it’s also cool because I have had the opportunity to have a first-hand relationship with sponsors and being able to talk to them about what they want to see in the blog. I’ve done some contests giveaways with sponsors and things like that. So, it’s just about adapting and communication and just being on the same page a lot of the time.

John: Well, I absolutely love what you are saying. I think you mentioned a couple of things that stood out to me that first. Obviously, being this concept of adaptability. Where it’s not enough just to train anymore. Just to be the athlete. You said a couple of things. You have to connect with your audience. So, you have to know that audience and maybe that audience is not just the sponsor, but it’s the sponsor’s audience that people were engaging with that brand, so not just other fellow athletes, but also those users that might be on the periphery or those market edge that a brand wants to attract, and what I really like that you said there was about creating great content.

I think in marketing and Jason, I am sure, we’ve had a lot of conversations about this, creating great content is so key and critical today to standing out, as you said. As a brand, as an athlete, I think I see athletes who do that personal touch, where they show themselves maybe outside of the training facility or they show their family, or they give that holistic experience to who they are as an individual. People will engage with people, and at the end of the day, that’s who we are. So, I love that you brought up that point about content because for us as marketers, that is so critical in today’s world, in order for us to stand out.

Kerry: Yeah, for sure.

Using content marketing like video blogs to build athlete/sponsor relationships

Jason: How has the vlog shown that relationship between an athlete and their sponsors? I don’t follow a lot of other cyclist on social media, so I don’t know if they’re doing that. Is that kind of something that sets you apart from others?

Kerry: Yeah, for sure. Especially in the cycle cross community or racing community in general. There was one or two before me, Cody Kaiser was maybe the original cycle cross. Well, Jeremy Powers was behind the barriers. So, Cody Kaiser started his own vlog and then I kind of jumped in and now there’s a few more doing it. I don’t know, I think a lot of people are hesitant because it is awkward sometimes to be walking around and talking to yourself in a camera, and like from an outside person, I think it looks very arrogance sometimes, and people wonder what the heck you’re doing. I mean I do that when I see people taking selfies all the time so, yeah I mean it take a little bit of getting used to, but I kind of overlook all that, and when I have a finished piece, it’s something that I’m really proud of and also something that other people enjoy watching and can connect with me on.

I always try to respond to comments and be really receptive to just reaching out to the audience, because they are the reason that I do it. You know like racing is awesome, but growing the sport, I think is right up there with winning national championships, it’s like if I was a hermit and winning national championships, I don’t think I’d be as happy as if I got second and didn’t give something back to the sport. If that makes sense?

John: That absolutely does. As we’re coming to the end of our time here today, I have one question I want to ask you. What is maybe one of your greatest success stories, and then maybe one of the stories that you’re like, This is something I really learned from, you can learn from success as well, but success and maybe failure or not achieving what you wanted to achieve can teach us even more and out of that, maybe goes those quick stories, what could the audience learn in terms of, like you said, adaptability in business, because we’re always iterating every day.

Kerry: Yeah, so one of my biggest learning moments was in 2008, I did the World Championships in Val-ESOL Italy as a junior, and it was my first time racing out of the US and just against international competition in general. I went into it thinking, I would do amazing things. I’d only ever done great things on the local Mid Atlantic super serious circuit.

John: Sure, sure.

Kerry: That was a big eye-opener, and I learned quite a lot. I got pulled three laps down. We started with, I don’t know, 150 juniors in that race so yeah, it was just bad. But I don’t know, for some reason, I don’t know if it’s just my mentality or my spirit or what, but like I got annihilated and it only made me want to fight and keep going and so yeah. I don’t know, I think that it just showed me that I can always give more, and there’s always stuff to be learned, so I’m always trying to approach projects or races or big heavy training blocks with an open mind and trying to take things in a full circle.

Jason: Yeah, that’s cool. I do have one quick question. Have you, focusing more on the training side of you, Are you switching things a little bit up from what you’ve done in the past, or you still doing the same kind of training or experiment with anything, or is that all disclosed the information?

Kerry: I’m very open about my training, I don’t really have anything to hide. I upload basically all my rides to Strava and let everybody see it. So, workouts are there. Power numbers are there. That’s all up there. I don’t really care if anybody knows about my workouts. Yeah, so with COVID plaguing the US, it’s been interesting because I’ve always had a pretty race-heavy season, even in the off-season, so cycle cross runs from September to February, and then everybody takes a break and then you kind of slowly build through the summer until you get back into racing again, and for me, I’ve always kind of gotten into too many races in in that build time so, it’s been kind of nice to be at home and be able to do little trips with my wife and my dog, Sherman in the RV. We just go to the forest and do some big rides and explore the local spots. I think it’s good because… Yeah, I think the intensity that I used to get in years past, during this time would kind of lead to me maybe having me fizzle out just a little bit earlier in the cross-season, just because you can only maintain so much intensity for so long.

John: Sure.

Kerry: Yeah, I’m really hoping to get back to cross racing this fall. I think it’s going to be a thing. I think it’s going to be delayed for sure, but regardless, I’m excited because yeah, I’ve definitely changed things up this year, and I kind of wanted to see what happens with that.

Key Takeaways

John: That’s fantastic Kerry, and we obviously will wish you the best of luck and success with their upcoming races. As we kind of wind down here for today. These thoughts that are ringing in my head of adaptability, pushing yourself, turning your defeat or turning your learning experience into that drive to excel even more as business owners and as people in the marketing space, these are excellent lessons for us to learn and continue to iterate day to day as we develop our business, we work with our clients and our team members.

I’m wondering, is there a couple of things that maybe you could leave the audience with today, some key points or key indicators that they can take with them from the mind of someone who is a superior athlete and focuses on this concept of success, especially when you’re out there on that course.

Kerry: Yeah, so first and foremost is fun, and I’m not sure how you relate that to business, but maybe just like keeping it something that you can be excited about, because I think once you start banging your head against a wall every day on a project, if you can’t be happy about maybe the end result, then you’re probably not going to get the best end result.

So, for me, I’m always just trying to keep training fun and light, and I don’t know, I just kind of liked it.

Maybe not so much structure all the time structure is good, but I think sometimes you just have to wing it and go with things. I think having a long-term outlook on things is important. Sometimes things, especially now with the pandemic, things can be pretty negative for long periods of time, and I think that if you kind of focus on how we’re to come out of this and the positive side of things, it’s much better than dwelling on the negative. I think just being adaptable because like I said, things change, negative things happen, positive things happen. I think if you’re able to kind of write your own story or at least be the author of your own story, then I think you’ll be satisfied.

John: I love that. It’s been an absolute pleasure to have you on board today, once again, this is the life is digital podcast, be sure to subscribe in the link below, and you can like and also share this. Jason, thank you so much for being with us today. Kerry, I’m not sure exactly when your next race is going to be when everything gets started back up, but we wish you the best of success and look forward to seeing you out there riding again, man. It was great to have you today. Thanks, so much for coming on board.

Kerry: Thanks guys, I appreciate the time and yeah, maybe I can come back again and talk to guys.

John: Sure! we would love that.

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