Supertraining: a philanthropic model applied to sport
My cycling career was shorter than I’d anticipated and I found myself working in the auto industry in Burlington, Vermont. An opportunity to work remotely in Colorado opened and I jumped - I’d never lived in Boulder as a cyclist and I still had a penchant for riding. I was eager to ride Colorado roads I only explored in races years earlier, and I wanted more freedom from the office 5 days a week.
I moved and I worked, but work left something to be desired. Unfulfilling as it was, I still looked back at cycling and wanted a role in the cycling community. One of the problems I had with professional sport was the foundation of its very selfish nature: competing to be the very best athlete one can be can lead you on an incredibly self-focused mission of personal bests and comparison to competition. This in itself isn’t a problem. Self development is invaluable - the problem lies in the self-focused lifestyle that sport promotes without consideration or application beyond your own personal goals to be the very best. What about helping victims of domestic abuse or people at risk of suicide? Can you volunteer at a food shelter a few hours a week and be a contributor, too? Ask an athlete and the answer more often than not is that time is precious and it’s devoted to eating, sleeping, recovery or sharing the limited leftover hours with loved ones. Philanthropy and collectivism becomes eclipsed by what we learn it means to be an athlete and the dichotomy between self improvement and helping others grows further and further apart.
It dawned on me that if I could marry a nonprofit with an athletic event, elite athletes - those very selfish ones I call out above (my former self included) - might be interested in participating under a welcoming model. I created Project Supertraining Foundation - a nonprofit that inspires philanthropy in cycling. The Foundation raises money for a different nonprofit organization every month by offering a unique, fully supported training ride with breakfast, a support vehicle and a catered lunch for just $20. My hope was to attract self-devoted athletes with a full supported training ride unlike any other and link it to giving.
In April 2017 I started the Supertraining Ride. 12 people showed up. In May, 1 showed. June had 20 and July 35.
Supertraining with Vafels
The Supertraining Ride offered the value of a Gran Fondo, but it was $20 instead of $200. But, I wanted more people to come. My reach in Boulder was small since I wasn’t heavy in the cycling scene and spent over 100 days a year out of town. Colin (another classmate from UVM and roommate at the time) and I talked about making fresh Belgian wafels to entice more people to show. And so we did. And they came. The ride grew to 80 riders in the next few months, and today the Supertraining Ride can host anywhere from 75-200 riders depending on the time of year. Athletes are now giving back to the community by using some of their hardest training days as a collective philanthropic effort.
The growth rate of Supertraining may not have been attributed specifically to our wafel delights, but friends and riders increasingly asked if they could get wafels for themselves - Colin and I began taking orders on a “pay-what-you-want” basis. Soon, we realized this idea could be turned into something real. We used this trial period to play with the recipe. We did A-B testing on wafels containing eggs and dairy vs vegan friendly ones, since I’d adopted a plant-based diet after my racing years. We’d use feedback to tweak the recipe and reiterate.
Soon, we landed on the Vafel, a plant-based version of the original centuries-old recipe that tastes as good, if not better and has more nutrients and no cholesterol or trans fat. The Vafel had other advantages, too, it doesn’t require storing ingredients in the refrigerator which helps scaling, has less fat content which improves digestion during exercise, and we were told it had a more complex texture and flavor profile in comparison.
Motivation built to a crescendo. I was confident that with the right work, Vafels could be enjoyed by an audience beyond the Supertraining riders in Boulder. In April 2018, I quit my job to work on Vafels and Supertraining full-time. Alex and Colin were in it with me, and without their dedication to launch this risky project while tied to other work commitments, Vafels may still be lost Google Doc. This was where it all began. This was the conception of Vafels.