Five people who have made their passion their job

Meet the woman who designed Michael Johnson's golden shoes  Credit: Mike Powell/Allsport
While most Americans work at desk jobs that have nearly nothing to do with swimming, biking, running or which ever sports they love others have taken the leap and work at their passion each day.

Whether its writing about the Tour of Italy or designing shoes for Michael Johnson, these folks devote their days to their sports infatuations. Though the work is hard, the perks are big and the passion is nearly always there for the five people profiled below.

Pam Stevenson, footwear developer

At first, the Nike design team working on Michael Johnsons shoes for the 1996 Olympic trials made them purple, the sprinters favorite color. But for the Atlanta Olympics, Johnson said he wanted gold.

"We asked him if he was sure," says Pam Stevenson, who was part of the team. "He said yes. I guess he knew what he was talking about."

Stevenson, a footwear developer whos worked at both Nike and Salomon, is responsible for taking a shoe from initial design concept to finished product. She discusses the shoes purpose and function with designers, runs consumer focus groups to ascertain the pluses and minuses of a future product, and flies to factories to examine prototypes and refine the product.

Along the way, shes spent time with some of the best athletes in the world.

For Johnsons shoe, she explains, "We filmed him competing and studied him in slow motion. We realized special aspects of his running style that we designed the shoe around. Then we met with him and got input on what he wanted in his dream shoe. He wanted something that was lightweight but gave him enough traction to run the turns as hard as possible since he runs them better than anyone else."

The result was a pair of three-and-a-half ounce golden wonders. To save weight, there was no rubber on the back halves, since film showed Johnsons heel never touches the ground; the spikes were metal matrix but didnt screw into receptacles (another weight-saver); and the bottom plate was asymmetrical, because Johnson only turns left on the track.

Stevenson, 38, has a BA in chemistry, an MA in mechanical engineering and an MBA, and has done stints at the Olympic Training Center and other biomechanics labs. Shes a former bike racer who loves triathlon and adventure racing, and when shes trail running at home in Bend, Oregon, she always keep her eye to the ground.

"I can recognize the tread patterns of all sorts of running shoes and I love it when I see that someones run on that trail in a pair of shoes weve worked on," she says.

Charles Pelkey, technical editor, VeloNews magazine

Back when he covered politics for the Casper (Wyoming) Star Tribune, Charles Pelkey spent one week each year covering the Casper Classic bike race, a story he freelanced to the bike-racing tabloid VeloNews. In between writing, he trained and bike raced and did a yearlong stint as Senator Alan Simpsons press secretary in Washington, D.C.

After one year in Washington, Pelkey and his wife wanted to go back west, and Pelkey landed his current job at VeloNews. He writes technical articles, does "lots of race coverage" and covers the on-going issue of drugs in the sport.

"I dont get to ride the bike as much as Id like," he says, "but Ive been to five Tour de Frances, the Giro dItalia, and I go to Europe three or four times a year, which isnt bad. I get to go on the Tour course, interview riders its amazing the access you have."

And hes still a huge bike-racing fan.

"I got to watch one of the most decisive stages of the Tour, in 1996. The day started with Lance Armstrong dropping out for some inexplicable reason (he had testicular cancer). Then Miguel Indurain cracked on the final climb up to Les Arcs, which saw an end to his five-year reign, and I was right behind him the whole time, gawking out the sunroof. It was amazing and I watched for hours and hours."

Pelkey, 42, covers the dark side of the sport, too. "When its a drug issue, it usually falls on my desk. I think thats largely because of my background as a news reporter. I dont mind being aggressive to get a story thats the fun part of the job, when you think youre on to something and you watch people try to waltz around the issue."

He writes daily tech updates from the Tour, reporting on the latest cycling equipment. "It generates a lot of questions and minor debates," says Pelkey. "Its very geeky. But Im a tech geek and a bike geek and I think its kind of fun."

Kristin McCandless, marketing manager, Schwinn Cycling and Fitness Inc.

Ever since Kristin McCandless graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in communications, shes worked in the fitness industry. She started in marketing and public relations for a group of Chicago health clubs, then moved on to the same position with the tony East Bank Club, where she rubbed shoulders with members Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey.

When McCandlesss husband landed a law job in Boulder last year, McCandless scored a dream job at Schwinn. Shes in charge of marketing about 40 Schwinn fitness products, ranging from Spinning bikes to treadmills and elliptical trainers.

"I love my job," she says. "I love the culture of the company and the nature of the people I work with. And being here in Boulder breeds a certain healthy mentality."

McCandless, 27, decides where Schwinn ads are run and puts together sales packages, brochures and catalogues. She writes a dealer newsletter and another for the Schwinn Web site and works trade shows.

"I love getting in touch with customers," she says. "Im marketing a product that I believe in its fitness and I like getting behind it. Its also neat working for a brand as strong as Schwinn because it opens so many doors.

"Our fitness division isnt very recognizable outside spinning bikes, but any time people hear Schwinn, it elicits warm feelings and they cant help but tell you about the Schwinn bike they had when they were seven years old. Its a really strong brand to be marketing."

Company cultures a big plus, too. "Its very casual, laid back, and everyones active. Everyone works out at lunch. Weve had Sting Ray races in our parking lot with dirt jumps. Theres a big contrast between working in a city and wearing a suit and working here."

Dan Schorr, senior director of sports marketing, Saucony

He travels about 100,000 miles a year and about half his weekends are spent away from home, but the locations arent too bad. From Sydney, Australia, for the Olympics to Kona for the Hawaii Ironman, Dan Schorr and his team are constantly working to build the Saucony brand with consumers in the field.

"I call it the 40 formidable days of fall," says Schorr, describing the period from the Summer Olympics through the Chicago and New York marathons. "Its a wonderful experience and an incredible opportunity, but theres a lot of work. You have to force yourself to step back and say, Yeah, Im up at 3 a.m. preparing for the day, but Im in Sydney, Australia."

Schorr was a nationally ranked high school runner who competed in college, and he knew early on he wanted to enter sports marketing. After following the New York Yankees for one summer after college, he worked for a sports marketing agency in Washington, D.C., then moved to PowerBar, then ended up at Saucony, in Boston.

While Schorr gets to hang out with elite, sponsored athletes like Dave Scott and Scott Tinley, he spends just as much time talking to retailers and consumers about different Saucony products.

"At each event, our objective is to have consumers leave with a better understanding of what Sauconys all about," explains Schorr. "We want runners to walk away saying that Saucony understands me." At the Hawaii Ironman, the company held a press conference with elite athletes for consumers only no press allowed. And after the New York Marathon, Schorr and his team approached as many consumers as they could find and gave them a thank you note for running in Saucony shoes. "It was 497 people," he says. "In New York City, they were a little shocked we did that, then theyd thank us for helping them get through the marathon.

Interaction like that, albeit a little small, is more powerful than ads."

Mark Jackman, personal trainer/lifestyle modification coach

Mark Jackman had been dissatisfied with the corporate world for a while; when his company was going through a chaotic periodpeople were nasty, he was unhappy and working 70 hours a weekJackman, then in his early 40s, decided enough was enough.

Armed with a BA, MA and Ph.D. in sociology, with a specialty in social psychology and epidemiology and a research background on job stress and health, he decided to enter a very specialized world of personal training.

Jackman earned certifications from the American Council on Exercise as a personal trainer, a clinical exercise specialist and a lifestyle and weight management consultant. He chucked the suit and tie and created a 600-square foot, fully equipped gym in his Durham, North Carolina, home, where he sees clients.

A typical client will have multiple issues, such as depression, obesity and injury. "I help them reframe the way they think and help them change their behavior," Jackman explains.

"I work with lots of women whove lost bone density and with pregnant women As a certified clinical exercise specialist, I provide fitness services to people whove received medical treatment and have been cleared by their physician to return to physical activity and exercise.

"The personal training part is the core piece, but theres also weight management programming and dealing with more complicated medical conditions that a regular certified personal trainer wouldnt be able to handle.

"I love it," Jackman says of his new life. "It meets my important personal values for work: independence, creativity and intellectual stimulation. And I really like having a measurable impact on peoples quality of life. Thats something I never really got to experience in my 10 years in the corporate world. And I like working for myself. Its not for everyone, but it suits me."

At 48, Jackman brings a wealth of knowledge to the table, as well as upper level management experience under pressure. And with his own gym he can indulge his love of weight lifting and stretching.

"Theres lots of good continuing education out there," advises Jackman. "Get a good national certification in what you want to do, figure out what interests you in fitness and who you want to work with. Your training should reflect and serve your interests. Find a niche for yourself."

Finding the niche that matches your passion may take some time and making the leap takes some courage. But for these five, its been well worth the journey.

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