The game changers


0413 GameChangers 03Eight athletes, executives and innovators who are boosting the profile of Oregon sports.

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BY JON BELL

The Beaver State isn’t the first to come to mind as a sports powerhouse. Sure, we’ve got some big players like Nike, Adidas, the Blazers, the Timbers, and the Ducks. But compared to heavy hitters like New York, Texas or California, Oregon is in a different league.

But that’s OK. Here, our roster is deep. We’ve got the professional side covered, the apparel piece, the fringe sports, the college football, the bikes — and the business that goes along with all of them. We’ve got innovators in everything from concussion research and climbing walls to the Sunday afternoon mud pit bike racing known as cyclocross.

In short, plenty of people in Oregon make the state a sports and recreation driver. Here’s a look at eight key figures on that list.


Danielle Foxhoven

Soccer Player, Portland Thorns

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Under head coach Cindy Parlow Cone (right), Danielle Foxhoven and other members of the Portland Thorns will kick off a new era of women’s professional soccer in Portland.
// Photo by Joseph Eastburn

Danielle Foxhoven was supposed to go to Philadelphia in 2012. She ended up in Russia instead. A graduate of the University of Portland, where she was one of the highest-scoring women’s soccer players in the school’s history, Foxhoven had been signed to play for the Women’s Professional Soccer league’s Philadelphia Independence. But the league folded a few weeks before the season began, so Foxhoven jumped at an opportunity to play in Russia for six months.

Back in Portland last fall, Foxhoven found another opportunity a little closer to home: the Portland Thorns, one of eight professional teams in the new National Women’s Soccer League. She signed in February.

“I think it will be amazing to have a professional women’s team in Portland,” says Foxhoven, 23. “I think the city really embodies the sport of soccer, and there’s such a great culture here already.” Also on the Thorns’ roster are Alex Morgan and fellow UP graduate Christine Sinclair, widely considered to be among the best women players in the world.

The team kicks off its inaugural season with an opener in Kansas City on April 13. The first home game will be at Jeld-Wen Field on April 21, and fans are already getting riled up. As of March 1, an estimated 5,000 season ticket holders were on board.

“Portland will have crazy fans, the best fans,” Foxhoven says, “and I really think they’ll be proud of this team.”

SIDELINES

“This team is stacked. We have players who are unarguably the best in the world. It is an honor and I am humbled to have the opportunity to play with them.”


Mikal Peveto

Director of Running, Adidas America

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// Photo by Joseph Eastburn

In these parts, Adidas might seem like one of the two biggest names in running. But in reality — and in the rest of the U.S. — Adidas comes in a bit lower on the list at No. 6.

Mikal Peveto, director of running at Adidas America, says that’s partly due to something that’s been missing from Adidas: technology.

“We need something beyond name recognition to stand out,” he says, “and technology is what leads the way in running.”

After several years of research and development led in part by the Adidas Innovation Team in Portland, the company has launched the technology that could help move it up in the pack.

Known as Boost, the new material is a unique foam that reportedly provides unparalleled energy return and cushioning compared to standard EVA midsole materials. Boost is also designed to maintain its integrity much longer than traditional materials.

Adidas launched the first of the new line in February; a stability shoe and a lightweight racing version will be released later this year. Boost will become a mainstay in all Adidas running shoes going forward.

“With Boost, we have a real opportunity,” Peveto says. “If and when we do take that rightful position in the marketplace, it has the potential to change where we sit globally.”

SIDELINES

“The more hardcore runner you are, the more serious, the more skeptical you are of whatever is supposed to be the latest and greatest. So when [hardcore runners] tell me it’s their shoe of choice, that means a lot.”


Chris McGowan

President and CEO, Portland Trail Blazers

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// Photo by Joseph Eastburn

Upon arriving in Portland last fall to take over as president of the Portland Trail Blazers, 39-year-old Chris McGowan realized something was a little different here.

“This isn’t normal,” he says. What he’s talking about isn’t Portland as a city or the Blazers as an organization, but the level of support the team garners from fans. “I’d say in 90% of the markets, team performance impacts that greatly,” says McGowan, who came to Portland after heading up business operations for AEG Sports and its Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Galaxy teams. “The fan and sponsorship support is unbelievable here, win or lose. It’s astonishing.”

McGowan is one of three new leaders who’ve joined the organization over the past year, along with general manager Neil Olshey and head coach Terry Stotts. The trio is focused on boosting the Blazers, both as a team and as a business.

Joining the team in October didn’t give McGowan time to develop a full-on business plan for this season, but he’s already restructured for efficiency, cutting 10 positions. McGowan has also found success in landing new sponsorships from the likes of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon.

He also plans to bring more focus to sales and service, and by next season he’s hoping to have secured a naming rights deal for the Rose Garden.

“Professional sports teams should be about winning, but winning in the right way,” McGowan says. “To me, [that means] building a sustainable business model and being a successful, fan-focused organization.”

SIDELINES

“[General manager] Neil Olshey and I view ourselves as one team with a unified vision of how we run things. I don’t make decisions without talking to him, and he doesn’t make decisions without talking to me.”


Brad Ross

Director, River City Bicycles Cross Crusade

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// Photo by Joseph Eastburn

What started out more than 20 years ago as a bunch of guys racing bikes around a Portland park on an autumn afternoon has morphed into the largest cyclocross racing series in the U.S. Known since 1994 as Cross Crusade, the series today draws some 1,400 riders to each of its eight fall races — and it’s made Portland the place to be for cyclocross. “We rule the roost in terms of numbers,” says Brad Ross, longtime race director for Cross Crusade. “But I don’t think we’re in competition to be the biggest. It’s neat that we are, but our mission statement is to grow the sport of cyclocross. Period.”

The series has done that not by catering solely to elite racers but instead by welcoming everyone into its ranks. “We were really the first to come along and say no, you don’t have to be an elite,” says Ross. “We are changing the definition of the sport.” Since most racers are local,

Ross says Cross Crusade’s economic impact is less about tourism and more about generating visibility for the city. The scene has also spawned a handful of new cycling businesses.

Having experienced 10% to 15% annual growth, the series is fast approaching capacity. Rather than limit the number of racers, Ross says Cross Crusade has begun looking at a second series as well as a regional one. “The Cross Crusade is
famous now,” Ross says. “Everybody from anywhere knows about Portland and the Crusade.”

SIDELINES

“Local bike shops love us. They are now able to stay open and not lay people off during a time of year when normally there’s not much going on.”


Jim Chesnutt, M.D.

Medical Director, OHSU Sports Medicine Program

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Through the Oregon Concussion Awareness and Management Program, OHSU’s Jim Chestnutt and others, including physical therapist Jennifer Wilhelm (left), help students athletes such as Jamie Worth, recover from concussions.
// Photo by Joseph Eastburn

The National Football League isn’t the only entity taking concussions more seriously these days. Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have been hitting concussions head-on in an effort to help student athletes stay safer on — and off — the field.

“We’ve made a huge difference in how Oregon treats concussions and coordinates care of athletes from their time of injury until they’re back in school,” says Jim Chesnutt, M.D., medical director of the OHSU Sports Medicine Program, which sees between 30 and 40 new or returning concussion patients weekly.

Since 1995, Chesnutt has been helping schools implement concussion management programs. In 2009 he helped champion the passage of “Max’s Law,” which requires annual concussion education for coaches and bars athletes from returning to an activity on the same day of an injury.

Researchers at OHSU have been using computerized testing of student athletes to evaluate them before an injury; that data can then be used after an injury to see how brain activity has been affected. Additionally, OHSU has developed an innovative balance test that helps more accurately identify concussions.

Chesnutt says the work at OHSU will continue to inform concussion management programs for student athletes. One study found that students at schools with concussion management programs returned to school two to three days earlier than those at schools without them. The other piece of the puzzle will be advocating for rule changes and better enforcement of existing rules, such as the no helmet-to-helmet contact rule.

“I’d say we really are out in the front of a lot of this,” Chesnutt says.

SIDELINES

“We estimate that there are about 2,000 sports-related concussions a year in [Oregon] high school students. It’s a pretty prevalent problem.”


Jason Stollenwerk

Managing Director, Entre Prises

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// Photo by Joseph Eastburn

Thanks to Smith Rock State Park, Central Oregon has long been known as an outdoor climbing mecca. Thanks to Entre Prises USA, the area has also become renowned for indoor climbing.

The company, which started in France in 1983 and expanded to Bend in 1988, specializes in custom climbing walls. Its modular holds were among the first commercially marketed climbing holds anywhere. Today, its walls, made of everything from plywood to innovative complex composites, are among the most sought-after in the U.S. — and possibly the world.

“Both in volume and in reputation, we are probably the biggest globally, and in the U.S. we definitely are,” says Jason Stollenwerk, managing director for Entre Prises in Bend, which employs 40 people.

In addition to the longevity that comes from being one of the first climbing wall manufacturers, Stollenwerk says the company’s innovative designs and surface materials — from angular wood walls to hand-formed, natural-looking rock faces — have kept it at the front edge of the industry.

To date, Entre Prises has manufactured and installed more than 4,000 projects. The Bend operation alone builds between 50 and 60 each year primarily for North America, ranging in price from $20,000 to more than $800,000. And while there are lots of walls going up in the U.S., Stollenwerk says indoor climbing here is still four or five years behind Europe.

“The U.S. has a good ways to go yet,” he says, “and that’s a good thing for us.”

SIDELINES

“I think we’re really able to push the design envelope, but we also really focus on the client’s return on investment. It’s great to have a beautiful wall, but it’s also got to be practical and profitable.”


Rob Mullens

Athletic Director, University of Oregon

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// Photo by Joseph Eastburn

The fact that a colleague of Rob Mullens’ came across an Oregon Ducks display last fall in a Champs Sports store isn’t all that remarkable. The fact that he came across it at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J., however, is.

“I love getting calls from my colleagues on the East Coast who love the Ducks and want a helmet or want to see a game,” says Mullens, who became UO’s athletic director in 2010. “That says a lot about how much we’ve grown as a brand.”

An accountant who also worked in the athletics departments at the universities of Miami, Maryland and Kentucky, Mullens brought his business acumen to Oregon. Like an executive, he talks about putting the right support systems in place, having an entrepreneurial spirit and appreciating the support of Nike.

While a strong business focus is par for the course in college athletics these days, what’s not so typical, according to Mullens, is having a school with a comparatively modest asset base produce such impressive results. In recent years, Oregon has fostered top contenders in track, cross country, volleyball, softball, baseball and, of course, football.

“When you look at our peers, who have huge budgets and huge alumni bases, we are performing at a very high level,” says Mullens. “We are an anomaly among programs.” Those results, Mullens says, come from a combination of elite coaches, a passionate fan base and an overall commitment to “broad-based excellence.”

“I just try to make sure we have the right people in the right places,” he says.

SIDELINES

“We are innovative and we’re willing to try different things. One of the most visible examples of that is our uniforms. There was a point 10 or 12 years ago where people were kind of poking [fun] at that. Now everyone is imitating us.”

 


Natalie Ramsland

Owner, Sweetpea Bicycles

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// Photo by Joseph Eastburn

For years, the rules of custom bike building were written with certain cyclists in mind: European male racers.

But when Natalie Ramsland first set out to build her own bikes in 2005, she realized the rules were meant to be broken. The 36-year-old California native saw a need for women looking for bikes that truly fit them and allowed them to get more out of a bike than they ever thought possible. Which is why Ramsland learned everything she could about proper fitting and building and launched Sweetpea Bicycles in Portland in 2005.

“What makes my bikes so unique is the way they fit individuals,” says Ramsland, who studied architectural design and worked as a bike messenger before shifting to bike building.

Eight years later, Ramsland has long since perfected her approach to building bicycles for women, which starts with a three-hour fitting session for custom bikes and tends to every detail, from frame angles to colors and accessories. The cost of one of her custom builds — she produces between 12 and 18 each year — runs between $3,600 and $4,000; the wait list is three years.

Sweetpea has built up such a following, though, that many who want one can’t wait three years. So Ramsland introduced the Lust line, which offers three frame sizes, produced by fabricators in Eugene, that she custom fits to individual riders. Those are ready in about 12 weeks. “Still, everything I do is at the very individual level,” Ramsland says, “and it works beautifully.”

SIDELINES

“For a lot of people, there’s a relationship between the person and their bike. It’s a love that runs deep. There’s an emotional connection.”