In honor of this week’s National Running Day, and tying in with the SkirtSports Half Marathon that I ran last Sunday, I jumped at the opportunity to sit down and chat with SkirtSports founder Nicole DeBoom in her Boulder, Colo. office. Prior to immersing herself fully in the women’s running and fitness apparel realm, DeBoom enjoyed a career in professional triathlon. In fact, she wore the first iteration of the running skirt that would serve as the cornerstone for her company (and the creation of a new women’s product category) when she crossed the finish line victorious at 2004’s Ironman Wisconsin. And if the DeBoom name sounds familiar, that’s because Nicole’s husband is none other than two-time Ironman world champion Tim DeBoom (and brother-in-law Tony also raced pro). Nicole and Tim are both retired from professional sports, but they’re no less active–in addition to keeping on top of their personal fitness they’re also busy keeping up with two-year-old daughter Wilder. I was curious to talk with Nicole to garner some insight into her entrepreneurial inspiration, the motivation behind the SkirtSports races and to learn the latest goings on in this famed endurance sports family.
Triathlete.com: The DeBoom family is basically triathlon royalty in this town. What are you all up to fitness-wise these days, and does Wilder show early signs of talent following in your and Tim’s footsteps as an athlete? What about yours as a fashion mogul?
DeBoom: Probably not the fashion side yet. She is starting to learn how to pick out her clothing, but mostly she chooses not to wear any–which could be a triathlete thing, too!
My career has definitely evolved into SkirtSports, but I still have my own personal physical goals and I want to keep fit. I thought about what could I accomplish this year with the time I have in my life–I’m two years after baby and my body is a little different than it was before, and my time is very different. Long distances are harder for me now, even though that’s where my heart kind of is, so I set a goal this year of doing a race a month. It could be anything–I did the BAA 5k in Boston, I did a Shape Diva Dash, I did the SkirtChaser 5k and I plan to do a sprint triathlon. I also did a sprint last year and I love that distance now. It’s such a hard workout–one hour just flat out. So I do plan on doing triathlons. I’ll use my road bike and I’ll put some aero bars on it and Tim will probably stick a disc wheel on there and I’ll look like a little bit of a hack–but I’ll be fast!
As for Tim, he’s truly in between careers. He’s retired from racing, but you would look at him and think he could go win an Ironman. He’s very fit; he works out probably twice a day just because he loves it. He doesn’t do five-hour rides anymore, but he lifts more weights. And one of the things that’s been really cool has been to watch him work out with Wilder. She goes to day care part time, and then Tim and I share, but he really takes on more of the parenting. It’s been so special for him–not a lot of dads get that opportunity and he has it, so he has a really good bond with her. She is all about Daddy. He runs with her in the stroller and he hikes with her and he swims with her every Wednesday. That’s their thing–they wake up, eat breakfast and then go to the pool and play.
Wilder is definitely active! She loves the water. And she’s watched us leave for runs, so we’ve taught her to say, “Have a good run, Mommy,” or “Have a good run, Daddy,” and now when we take her to the park she says, “Let’s go run!” Instead of just playing on things she takes off across the field running. You’ll hear her saying, “I’m running! I’m running!” And she runs until she’s out of breath. I think it’s just ingrained.
Triathlete.com: Your athletic career was impressive, and you’ve embraced entrepreneurship and the SkirtSports business with equal–if not greater–zeal. Did you always plan to turn your sporting passion into a career beyond the racecourse, or did SkirtSports sort of come to be organically as you started creating fun fashions for yourself?
DeBoom: I don’t think you plan for something like SkirtSports to happen, but I think there are things along the way that let you know what you may or may not be meant to do. So I’ll tell you a couple of them for me. One of the first important things was after college, when I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I did a little soul searching and this mantra kind of bubbled up for me. I would call it one of my core principles. It’s this: When my body is fit and strong, my mind is fitter and stronger, too. Knowing that, I knew that whatever I did with my life would have to involve athletics, or at least allow me to do athletics. And then I met Tim on an airplane and I got into triathlon and I had a great career. But one of the other big things for me was that I watched Tim win Hawaii twice. I never won Hawaii, but still I was pretty damn good–I was 12th in Hawaii one year. But I saw what it took for Tim to win Hawaii and the level of sacrifice that was needed, and while I knew that I had that in me, I also knew in my heart that I didn’t want to put it into triathlon. Triathlon was great, and I loved it and it fulfilled me in so many ways, but I knew that there would be something else for me. And then I had my idea for SkirtSports. It was December 2003, I was only 31 and starting to hit my prime in my triathlon career, and I was running down Main Street in Lyons [a small town north of Boulder]. I saw my reflection in a storefront window and I had three thoughts. The first one was: I look like a boy. Number two was: I’m uninspired. And number three was: I just want to feel pretty. That word pretty became more important as my run went on, and I came home and this is what I did [pointing to a piece of framed notebook paper that hangs above her desk, a jumble of bullet points with a pair of women’s lips doodled at the top]. This is my original brainstorm sheet. It’s hilarious. [Reading] “Women’s fitness clothing that you look and feel good wearing. What I’ve always wanted and strived for, like the Williams sisters did!” At the time tennis had it, but running didn’t. “Juicy [Couture] sweats took frumpy wear to sexy wear!” That was a decade ago! It was just this random sheet. But the idea started building: I’m thinking of starting a clothing company. That’s a big thing to think! But at some point I just knew that this was what I was going to sacrifice for. So I didn’t know at all when I was racing that I would become an entrepreneur, but it happened–and now we’re 10 years in. When your mind is open is when great things happen, right?
Triathlete.com: I think a lot of people would love to find a way to turn their own love of sport into a career–to escape the daily grind of a traditional job and craft a business more directly tied to the lifestyle pursuits they love. Do you have any suggestions as to how to start down a path that’s linked to one’s passions?
DeBoom: One of my first thoughts would be to volunteer. I know it takes time, but if you think you want to get in the events industry, for example, volunteer. The people doing packet pickup for our race, they’re volunteering for a really cool events company (3wraces.com) and they’re totally excited to do it, and every now and then one of them gets hired by that events company. Or they learn valuable skills and maybe they take the leap of faith to go off and create a company on their own. I think if you get involved with a group and volunteer or can be an ambassador, that’s a way to be a little more productive with your passion. And then if you want to make a big change, at some point you do have to take a great leap of faith. At some point it’s about having that courage.
Triathlete.com: You don’t necessarily need to put on races in order to have a successful fitness apparel brand. So why is the SkirtChaser Half Marathon & 5k and the SkirtChaser 5k series important to you?
DeBoom: It’s really good timing that you asked this. We’re 10 years into the business, and so we’re analyzing everything and deciding where we want to go in the future. And we’ve realized that yes, we make great apparel, but what we really do is bring women together. And to us that’s more important–to bring women together, give them a positive experience and hopefully our clothing is involved and supports them in these experiences and in giving them goals to go out and make their lives better. Events are only going to get more important to us as we go. We want to be sure we’re tied into this whole concept of women pursuing goals through events–because it’s what we know and what we love. I mean look how we got started–I wore the first Skirt in an Ironman. That’s who I am, so it has a deeper meaning. Our Kick Start program [wherein SkirtSports pairs women who otherwise would not or could not participate in a 5k with a personal mentor and training support] is really the heart of it. We have a whole chapter that graduated their 5k on Sunday. These are women that have barriers to running and you help them overcome that, they do it and then a percentage of them continue to be runner their whole lives. That is so powerful to me! Creating the clothing is super fun, the design work is super exciting and there’s so much in business that I’ve appreciated learning over the years, but it’s the opportunities to interact with other people that drives me personally. And since I’m the driver of the business, that passion is infectious to everybody here!
Sunday’s SkirtSports race truly was a festival of fitness, with more than 400 women and men (women made up the majority of participants, but men were certainly welcome, many of them sporting Skirts) taking on the two race distances. Another 200 athletes joined from afar as part of the “virtual race” division. Everyone on hand was treated to gorgeous weather, a challenging course, a fantastic all-inclusive vibe, shopping aplenty and a plethora of tasty treats at the finish. My favorite? For sure it was the gluten-free (but no less gratifying) birthday-style cake from local bakery Kim & Jake’s, served up in an array of flavors to celebrate the accomplished goals.
Learn more about the SkirtSports product line (including several triathlon-specific items) and running events at Skirtsports.com.