Ironman champion Nicole DeBoom talked to Triathlete.com about walking away from the sport at 33, in the prime of her pro career, to pursue another passion—helping women look and feel better while pursuing their own athletic goals. The wife of former pro triathlete Tim DeBoom, Nicole won the 2004 Ironman Wisconsin wearing a prototype of the now ubiquitous running skirt, and shortly after founded Skirt Sports, a women’s triathlon/run/fitness apparel brand. More than a decade later, her Boulder-based company (which she runs while juggling parenting to daughter, Wilder) is going strong, with an events arm and a social media campaign that are all about female empowerment.
Triathlete.com: Can you tell us about the #REALwomenmove initiative?
DeBoom: It’s a campaign to help redefine what it means to be a fit female athlete. I think in the past a lot of women had preconceptions that you had to be ripped and lean and look a certain way to be considered an athlete and you don’t. Just by getting out there and showing up—and showing the world that you’re still out there making your workouts a priority in your life—you’re inspiring other people to do the same.
With the hashtag, we’re just saying, post what you do. Because just by putting yourself out there—the good, bad or ugly—you’re inspiring other people. It’s about getting uplifted. Owning it. Being proud of yourself no matter who you are. And so it’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, wherever you are. For every 5,000 hashtags—it took us a month to get 5,000—we’re giving away a scholarship for training plans and head-to-toe training gear from Skirt Sports. The first one is a three-month running makeover by Coach Jenny Hadfield. It’s a cool thing to do because it totally epitomizes our core values, but we also wanted to have a giving back component. And the stories we’re getting from women…wow, very inspiring.
For Skirt Sports, it’s about helping women feel confident and happy in their own bodies, and clothing is a very important part of that mix, so we’re creating products that fit women of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels. We’re not just creating products for women to wear once they hit their goals. So I think that’s how the Skirt Sports brand plays a part in this, helping them put a smile on.
Triathlete.com: What inspired you to start your own business?
DeBoom: It’s funny, I was thinking about my original epiphany run in 2003 and how back then, when you put on your fitness clothing it almost de-motivated you from working out because it looked so bad and it didn’t fit your body right because it was men’s extra small clothing. There just weren’t a lot of options for women. And so here we are 10 years later and it’s a very different environment, a different landscape of clothing, and our goal is to put clothing on that actually motivates you to get out the door. You put it on and you’re like “Oh, I feel pretty good. I thought I was just gonna walk, now I think I might run a little bit.”
Triathlete.com: How would you describe the evolution of your business since the first prototype skirt at Ironman Wisconsin?
DeBoom: We spent the first 10 years trying to educate people that running in a skirt was an okay and liberating thing to do, and that it would make you feel good. And that’s accepted now, so we don’t need to keep educating on that. What’s next? We’ve been going through a period of reinvention and I think it’s more just figuring out who we are and why people gravitate to us, and it’s more on the inspiration side.
Triathlete.com: And then on the events side of your business, you also put on a half marathon.
DeBoom: Yes, the 13er. It’s so funny, at the race I was on the mic, and I said, ‘And it’s the 13er because…’ And the audience was like, ‘It’s not half of anything!’ And I said, ‘I’ve trained you well!’ Our 13er was amazing. It’s all about food. Every other vendor was food, and you know I put it together because I care about food a lot! Because I’m a former pro triathlete I like to eat!
We also have virtual races, so we have one more on our anniversary, and this year we’re calling it the Boobie Run. We’re giving a free sports bra with your entry and there’s going to be a lot of education on breast health and awareness and it’s September 12 so it leads well into the October Breast Cancer Awareness.
Yeah, so it’s been fun for me because I never thought I’d become a professional triathlete. I never thought I’d be that successful, I never thought I would start a company. To be honest, I probably started this in my prime, I quit racing at the prime of my career, the prime of my physical capabilities.
Triathlete.com: Was it hard deciding to leave the sport when you were at the top?
DeBoom: The idea happened and passion took over. I won an Ironman wearing a prototype, all of my energy went into this, and then it just transferred. I was doing so much work for this project that I just wasn’t training as much anymore. I remember when the tide turned: you can fake it for about three months, and then you gotta start training again. I did St. Croix, I think I was like fifth, on barely any training, and I won our national long-distance championships in May of 2005 in our prototype. And there were a couple other short races, and then all of a sudden by August I was at the Chicago Triathlon, a race I had been second or third in many times, and I had worked the expo, been up late, you know on my feet the whole day and then running along in twelfth place in the race and I was like, what am I doing? I don’t train anymore. I think I can be done. Just like that. I had a new passion. It has to kind of rear its head for you. A lot of people don’t get that, so I was lucky. I won my Ironman, and that was good enough for me.