Hey guys, Noah here.
Sam is the last friend I will be interviewing.
I met Sam in my sophomore year at the University of Minnesota in speech class on the St. Paul campus in 2005 or 2006. At some point in that class I found out that Sam had painted in the past. I had painted for College Pro Painters the two summers prior and I asked if he would be interested in running a crew in the summer of 2006. He agreed.
Over that summer I got to know Sam much more than I did over the semester in speech class. I learned that Sam was from Lakeville, Minnesota, but for some reason went to school his freshmen and sophomore years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before transferring to Minnesota. Sam is a year older than me and was also a year ahead of me in school.
I found out at our last visit that he went to Wisconsin with little knowledge of the University and didn’t find out until orientation that the major he went to study there, architecture, didn’t even exist. When he found out he was dumbfounded and that is also a pun because he said it would be very difficult to find another point in his life when he felt any dumber.
The only response he could come up with was Frank Lloyd Wright is from Madison. Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the greatest U.S. architects of all time, according to Sam, and because of that he assumed Madison would have the major, but they did not so he chose Art as a major, enjoyed his years and everything Madison had to offer, and after doing his generals, he went back home. I am glad he did, otherwise, our paths would have never crossed and Sam would have never become one of my best friends who has helped form my life for the better.
Sam ended up majoring in graphic design at the University of Minnesota and I can attest that he is very gifted, which I assume has contributed to much of his success at Rally Cycling. That is only one of his skill sets as he has become their Swiss army knife, wearing a lot of hats for a small and unique business.
He handles design and copy-writing, film, photo, and marketing, working with a small team of writers and designers and loads of freelancers. Sam has worked for Circuit Sport, the owner of Rally Cycling, for 11 years and has helped it grow to the company it is today, with United Health Group being their primary sponsor. I know his experience with Rally has changed his life, not only by building his career, but it has also shown him the world beyond Minnesota, as he has been all over the United States, Europe, and Mexico.
Sam’s career will not be the only focus of this interview, because there is something else that Sam and myself relate to, and that is our battles with substance abuse.
Sam’s drug of choice was alcohol, and he has now been sober for over three years, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
His success with his sobriety gives me hope for my own.
This guy has asked me questions that I haven’t even thought about to dig deeper into my why and future. He plays a major role in my support system currently and I know will continue to after my release, as he lives only 20 minutes away in St Louis Park, Minnesota from my future home in Minnetonka, MN.
All right, let’s get to the questions I had for this awesome friend of mine…
You’ve been working with Optum for a while, how did you come to start working with them?
Yeah it was a crazy time in my life actually, I had recently graduated, and things were somewhat chaotic in my personal life, and I really had no idea what I was going to do with my degree or where I was going to work. I met this crazy entrepreneur Charles Aaron in the valet zone of my valet job and I guess you could say it was a dream job for a young graphic design major…doing vehicle wraps, jersey designs, etc…kind of the stuff you think sounds cool. Little did I know what it would really entail!
Then, Charles met Tom McEnery who was at the time the CMO of Optum and overseeing a massive consolidation and rebrand of OptumHealth/OptumRX/other business units into what we now know as Optum.
Tom loved the team and cycling as a marketing vehicle, and we developed a great relationship with him and some other very cool people at Optum who helped us start using the team’s unique, turnkey platform to its full extent.
Also being local helped a lot as we got to know a lot of the executive team at UnitedHealth, many of whom happen to big cyclists. Its actually crazy how many healthcare executives and other people ride bikes pretty seriously.
You recently had your annual party out at Optum in Eden Prairie, it sounds like they pulled out all the stops, how did the night go?
Yes we did a pretty big double launch actually, during the day we went to Optum for a jersey reveal hosted by CEO of UHG that was webcast to the entire company. Then we did the big shiny party at night, downtown Minneapolis at Rally’s new (super cool) office, which is near US Bank Stadium in the Millwright building.
We had the Batman spotlight and cars parked in front, etc and it was definitely a big night capping off maybe the busiest week of my entire career!
Then the party moved downtown to Rally, which party was better?
Well super fun story there actually, this double party day came after a heavy week where I shot photo and film of 20 athletes and all our staff in a hotel suite, put in some pretty hardcore days with little sleep and then Friday I woke up nauseous of course. This nausea developed into a nasty stomach virus so I had to basically battle this throughout the event, eventually pulling over and puking on the freeway leaving the venue. I had to leave our fancy shiny party with nausea. After I asked one of our team doctors what he thought of how I looked and he said, “You aren’t doing anyone any favors being here.” Ha!
So I went home, pulling over and puking once more for good measure. So, I did not in fact feel like a celebrity. But I did feel very happy and quite proud that things went off so smoothly, I was very bummed to miss the fruits of all the labor! Not sure why I shared all that besides for a reminder that sometimes life is just unforgiving and hard at the weirdest possible times, and you need to kind of slowly just get through it and focus on that other side! Perhaps like doing time ; )
At your last visit, you mentioned you recently shot a music video for a local band on the roof of Rally’s building, who was the band and what was that experience like? Can you share the video with us and do you see any more music productions in your future?
Yes, I did a music video for a good friend of mine Jeremiah Conlon who has long been a fixture of the Minneapolis music scene, he has a new band called Nova Human. My work building has this really cool rooftop solarium thing and outdoor deck with a spectacular view of the skyline and river.
I have done a decent amount of little film edits and I love film editing in general so I wanted to film and edit something like this just to see what is possible. One thing it taught me is the incredible amount of time and energy it takes to really edit a film, even something seemingly not very complex. Cool profession I respect a lot.
Here’s the video –>
Last year you also filmed a documentary in Aguascalientes, Mexico, where your team broke the indoor “hour record,” can you talk about what that meant for Rally? Also, what was the reasoning behind choosing this location?
This was fun! Tom Zirbel is one of my all-time favorite riders, a great guy and an incredible athlete. The “Hour Record” as its called in cycling entails a cyclist going as far as possible in one hour on a banked indoor cycling track. Aguascalientes is known as one of the fastest tracks in the world, thanks to the high altitude mountain location.
Here’s the video –>
You have done a ton of traveling over the years, every time I “finally” get a hold of you you have been somewhere else either in the States or overseas, and you have a new adventure. What’s the most remarkable one and why?
A personal high point not related to travel really was getting to drive this Acura NSX supercar for 10 days thanks to the team. I got to design this vehicle wrap which brought me back to my old Gran Turismo car racing videogame days where you could design livery.
I love cars and design in general so being able to drive this $220,000 vehicle for 10 days was absolutely mind-blowing. And driving it hard too, in the canyons around Malibu and other places with very little traffic where you could push it to its limits. Yeah just…wow!
We shot a little mini-spot for Acura around this promotion –>
You have been sober for some time now, how does that success measure up to your professional life, and do you think you would still be where you are today if you didn’t make that change?
Quitting drinking marked the most pivotal change in my life for sure. No, I certainly would not be where I am today if I had not quit, approaching five years ago now. It is almost hard to describe how much it changed, what it changed, how I feel about my life then and now. One analogy I have used a lot that I like…only makes sense to the gamers out there…I liken it to the iconic puzzle game Tetris.
If you are having a bad run at Tetris, you have lots of gaps in your rows, things are piling up, and you are just stressed and kind of feeling like the end is near. But when you are kicking ass at Tetris, everything is just perfect, nothing is piling up, and you are scoring tons of points. Life without booze feels like the latter.
What advice can you give to me, as far as leaving prison and getting back into the dating world, starting a new job with my sister, relearning how to be a dad, and working a program? How have you found a balance?
I would say to seek out and cherish the joy in small moments and the little things that you love, the simple things that we privileged middle-class residents of the USA get to enjoy and take for granted so much. Don’t do too much, too fast. And seek out that balance – I wouldn’t say I have found it but I would say I have more self-awareness and more confidence in my life’s direction than ever before!
I think when you get out, it might be a bit overwhelming at first and that scale of time will feel pretty epic like you have all the time in the world to do things. This might make you feel excited, or maybe even bored. I would just try to get into a simple rhythm and avoid trying to do everything all at once. I am guilty of this a lot and its something I actively try to control!
Thanks, Sam, for sharing all of this. It’s so cool to get to know you and what you’ve been up to. And I want to thank you for everything you have done for me over the years, your support has been amazing, and I could never repay you. All I can promise is I will be a good friend going forward and I won’t make you come visit me in another state, under these same circumstances.
And thanks for listening c2s community!
From the inside,
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