Conversations About Gravel and Change, Part One: Kimo Seymour of Life Time Fitness
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Conversations About Gravel and Change, Part One: Kimo Seymour of Life Time Fitness

This is the first in a series of interviews about the change that’s happening in cycling as seen from the vantage points of people involved in one of the biggest drivers of that change: The gravel cycling world. For each of them I (Erik Mathy) sit down with the interviewee and have a conversation, recording it so it can be transcribed down to their words. The interviews are then edited for clarity and brevity. This means removing the inevitable “Uh” and “Um”’s that we all use as well as conversational tangents. I also remove myself because, as the interviewer, my voice isn’t important. It’s the words of people like Kimo Seymour, Yatika Fields, Kristi Mohn and others that are important. This will be an ongoing conversation, so please come back often as further interviews are published.

“From our perspective, our focus is being inclusive for the 95% of our athletes that are here to participate, not to race. That’s probably what is really the most important thing.”- Kimo Seymour, President of Events & Media, Life Time Fitness.

There are two things that seem inevitable in cycling right now, and they aren’t death and taxes. No matter where you turn you see the word “Gravel.” Gravel bikes. Gravel gear. Gravel rides. Gravel races. Gravel…wind tunnels? The other is what is known as D.E.I.: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion. Cycling is, and has long been, dominated by white men. The slow but steady influx of people of color and LGBTIQA+ communities has been a remarkable change. Adding to that is the groundbreaking All Bodies on Bikes campaign which has shone a light on how unwelcoming cycling has been to people who don’t have the physiques that you see in the vast majority of catalogs and advertising.

Both of these things, gravel and D.E.I., represent an upheaval of the order we’ve seen in cycling for countless decades. Gravel has been a massive area of growth, perhaps the first genuine large-scale new market that cycling has seen in a long time. D.E.I., in its own way, also represents a growth out of cycling’s traditional stomping ground as well as a call to action being driven by societal change.

In the midst of this is Kimo Seymour. His is a name that most people don’t know, but they should. Kimo is the President of Events & Media at Life Time Fitness (Life Time). Life Time is perhaps best known for its nationwide chain of over 150 health clubs. But Life Time also runs 30+ mass start athletic events over the course of the calendar year. Some of them you’ve never heard of. Others you have, like Sea Otter, Leadville 100, and Gravel UNBOUND. They are also running a Grand Prix of six offroad races with a prize purse of $250,000 that is evenly split between the men’s and women’s classes. Kimo is the man who oversees them all.

I interviewed Seymour at Sea Otter 2022 in Monterey, CA. I wanted to better understand how the changes in cycling, and society in general, are seen from the seat of a person who runs some of the biggest cycling events in America. What I found was, as usual, not at all what I expected. Please read and enjoy!

On the Beginnings of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion movement in Cycling

I just have to be honest with you. I don’t know exactly where it’s coming from, who is driving it. From my perspective, it feels like it’s coming from all directions. Whether we should call that fortunate or unfortunate, it’s kind of unfortunate that it took this long, but fortunately, we’re here. It takes a lot of rights to correct a wrong and there’s been a lot of wrongs for a long time. But at least it’s happening now. Whether it’s coming from the groups that have been kind of hiding, I shouldn’t say hiding, but have been pushed to the shadows for all these years or not I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s coming from the (cycling) industry. You know, I think there’s a lot of companies that are on it now because it’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s a bandwagon thing, and it’s kind of like one of those “it becomes a risk if you don’t get on board” issues.

I’ll tell you one of the things that attracted us to UNBOUND Gravel, and that team, was Kristi Mohn. It’s seeing what she did with 200 Women Riding 200 Miles, for example. I’ve sat there and looked at the start line at the Leadville 100 and we’d have 9% women. It’s just frustrated the shit out me, you know, like, why is that? Is it intimidation? Is it because there aren’t more women in the field? Is it a chicken and egg thing? The race isn’t that hard. I mean it’s a hard effort but it’s not like dropping down a super technical downhill. You can ride a gravel bike on the thing. I don’t think we do a good job of informing people that it is approachable, it is doable.

The Women’s Open class crosses the first valley in the Fuego 80k XC race at Sea Otter, which is the first race in the Life Time Grand Prix series.

On Running Races with Trans and Non-binary Classes

A change is going to create division. You’re going to create division, you’re going to create controversy. You get conflicting opinions and ultimately, you kind of end up having to make one of two decisions. You’re either going to embrace it or you’re going to fight it. You know, support it, embrace it, endorse it, fully get behind it. That’s decision number one, and whether you decide you are or you aren’t, you’re also making a decision to disregard the other sentiment that’s contrary to what your decision is. When we decided that we were going to be one of the first events to add a non-binary category we added it across all of our events, and we produce 30 plus events a year.

When we added a non-binary category, we had to make a conscious decision to disregard someone’s point of point of view on that. Either way, whichever side you take, you have to be willing to disregard someone’s point of view. And we chose to disregard the point of view that was wrong, that said non-binary people don’t belong. From our perspective it’s a conscious decision to be accepting, to be open, to be inclusive. And we are willing to take the heat for making that decision. A lot of people feel that the right thing to do is to oppose it. That’s not our position. Our position is to be inclusive, to be open, to be accepting, to be, you know, it’s not only welcoming, but with open arms.

What does that mean to invite people? To us that meant working with a variety of groups that are already connected to those communities. To the trans community, the para community, the non-binary community. It meant working with groups that already have that connection. That was our approach. We put a team of people on it, and they’re still working on it, and they work on it every single week.

We have a non-binary athlete (in the Lifetime Grand Prix). They weren’t the only one that applied but I’m gonna be honest, we didn’t take Rach because they’re non-binary. We took them because they’re badass. They’re a fucking badass, you know? So we’re like, absolutely! Come join our race series!

On Creating and Enforcing Classes for Transgender and Non-binary Participants

The category is there for the non-binary athletes. It’s a third category and we recognize the winners and everybody in the category. To me, that’s actually easier than transgender. Transgender is the one that’s a little more challenging for us. Our decision on transgender classes was to adopt the Olympic standards. We thought that was the easiest, I say easiest, but the most logical way to be able to support that community was to adopt what the standards are. That one to us is a little bit more challenging, but at least we’ve got a standard there to let people race in whichever category they select, or however they identify. They can identify in three categories. You can identify in male, female or non-binary.

We’re gonna get faced with people who will register as non-binary as a joke, a political statement or to try to finish in a higher place. We will have to figure out how to address that issue. From our perspective our focus is being inclusive for the 95% of our athletes that are here to participate, not to race. That’s probably what is really the most important thing. We’re a healthy way of life company. We’re just trying to help people live a healthy life, and we’re trying to navigate some of these changes that are happening, which we’ve made a conscious decision to support and invest dollars and get behind. At our heart, though, we’re a mass participation event company. We get as fired up about the last person across the finish line as the first person to cross the finish line.

“I’ll tell you one of the things that attracted us to UNBOUND Gravel, and that team, was Kristy Mohn.“ – Kimo Seymour (l) and Krist Mohn ( r). Krist Mohn is one of the founders of Gravel UNBOUND, which was acquired by Life Time Fitness in 2018. Kristy still oversees Gravel UNBOUND as well as a variety of initiatives within the company.

On Running Events in States that have Anti-LGBTIQA+ Legislation

We have a big event in Arkansas called the Big Sugar. I felt like we could have more of an impact by inviting trans and non-binary athletes to go to Arkansas and show this is the face of the people those laws are impacting. They’re humans, you know? I just felt the most effective way to attack it was to actually provide opportunity and be, you know, again, be inviting, be inclusive, especially for (LGBTIQA+) athletes that live in those states.

I might get grilled or blasted for this but it seems to me the better approach is to support this community of athletes, provide them opportunities, and not boycott (those states). What good does that do them? If everybody just leaves? I just didn’t know how that is going to affect change as much as bringing people there and showing them support.

I use some more choice words, I think, in another interview, that came back to bite me, so I’m gonna try to temper my temper on this topic.

Christopher Baird (#140) races in the Fuego 80k XC race at Sea Otter, which is the first race in the Life Time Grand Prix series.

What the Future Holds for Life Time’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts

We’re just gonna keep on marching down the path we’re on to be honest with you. People like Kristi on our team have done a phenomenal job of being in touch with this opportunity we’ve been given. You know, I love that, that we’ve been given the opportunity to help bring about change. And I love that we have a platform. I don’t like to toot our own horn very much, but we do have a big platform. With that comes a responsibility. If anybody can affect some change, I sure hope we can.

We’ll have like 60-70,000 people come through here (Sea Otter 2022) this weekend. Our total participation, with all our cycling events, will be north of 300,000 people this year. We’ve got a platform, which creates opportunity, but it also creates a responsibility, and we feel we have a responsibility to believe in inclusion. In the end, all of our events are a bunch of small events. Each one of those is a bite size opportunity to have an impact.