"When one door closes, another opens." - Alexander Graham Bell.
In November 2017, I discovered Zwift, and my only regret is that I had not started earlier! For years, I had been very involved in my CrossFit gym and had loved the high energy level and camaraderie of that style of exercise.
I am a very extroverted person and thrive on the energy of my friends and the opportunity to compete regularly.
CrossFit to Zwift - I Should Have Done It Sooner
For various factors, including tendonitis and the family schedule, I had to discontinue CrossFit and decided to ramp up my cycling. Coming into wintertime in North Carolina, wet weather, the cold, and short daylight hours made it challenging.
Additionally, the demands of fatherhood made it hard to get away from the house during the windows of opportunity I had to exercise. So, I ordered an Ant+ dongle for the laptop and gave Zwift a shot. It hooked me immediately!
Within months, I had linked up with guys like Jason Sterny, Doug Mastroianni, and Chris White. You probably all know that story by now.
Sterny registered our team and DIRT was born!
While I haven’t been involved in our team that much since COVID, it was such a fantastic experience being in the thick of it in those early days. Seeing our team grow on Strava, Facebook, Zwift Power, and Discord were inspirational.
But it was not an accident that our team had such a vibrant start. We were very deliberate in creating a healthy culture supportive to all of the dads out there, and this is how we did it!
It Was Not an Accident
On Oct 1, 2018, we launched the Facebook page, which has been the public-facing hub of our team ever since. We were all stunned when we hit 50, then 100, then 200 followers!
As of this week, we now have over 9,800!
One thing that we did on our FB page was using the Welcome Post feature to give some info about our group and encourage our new members to post an introduction and photo of their setup.
I recall one photo when finding the bike was like finding Waldo because there was so much clutter. We learned that we were all dads (mostly) staying on our grind and just trying to carve out some time and space for ourselves.
I quickly found a replacement for the exercise community that I had missed since I left the gym!
The DIRT-Fathers Became a Tight-Knit Group
The group founders rode together almost every day and constantly communicated how we could attract more people, and we came up with some great ideas.
A few other riders and I would live stream events and come up with an idea for streaming a publicity stunt called Alpe Dew Pizza, where I attempted a sub-hour Alpe Du Zwift ascent while eating a large pizza and drinking Mountain Dew.
ADP Was a Big Win For DIRT
It was a big win having Zwift Insider announce the event on their website. One commenter asked the question, “Is this really the way forward for Zwift?”
I also created flyers for our new events such as Monday Morning Blues, Family Values, and our 1st race series, The Morning Grind Fondo. We emphasized consistent messaging at the beginning of our group rides.
I introduced Dad Jokes on the Sunday Morning XLR ride, and I still smile during all of the Zwift events that I participate in where the tradition of bad dad jokes is still going strong.
The First DIRT Team Kit
The days before we had in-game kits, we encouraged our riders to wear the level 20 pink kit and ride Tron bikes. It was an incentive to strive to keep hitting these benchmarks for those who had not reached these levels!
Racing Was the Heart of DIRT
For the core group of us that started the club, racing was at the heart of it. It’s what we all loved the most. We began as a group of B racers, and we worked our way up the fitness ladder and started to get results.
We weren’t the fastest dudes on the road but could impress the neighborhood kids with burnouts down the block.
We would revel in the progress of our friends as they made breakthrough after breakthrough, which we branded #TheDIRTEffect. We were early adopters of Discord for in-game race radio and real-time tactics and planned our strategies in our Discord racing channel.
The Community Was Inspirational
The D.I.R.T. community has become an inspiration to me and others. There was so much love and support, and we seldom saw anyone get bent out of shape.
We even kept our cool when Ian Anderson called us a bunch of wheel-sucking sandbaggers (FYI, Ian is a Zwift race streaming pioneer). We would wear that comment like a badge of honor.
Some Things Worked, and Some Didn’t
Perhaps my favorite activity that never really worked out too well was the Turbo Hipster Underground Drag Races, where we created March Madness-style brackets and drag raced across the boardwalk.
We Each Had A Role and Worked Together Towards Our Goal
Each of the founders had a role. Doug was ‘The Advisor,’ I was ‘The Hype Man,’ and Sterny was ‘The Heavy Lifter’ who set up all events and races.
A Podcast Was Born
One thing that resulted from this was forming The Never Going Pro Podcast with Shayne Gaffney, Chris Gorney, and me. We would have real talk about balancing work, family, and our needs for personal time.
We hosted Zwift CEO Eric Min, The Vegan Cyclist Tyler Pearce, mountain bike racing legend Jeremiah Bishop, Shayne Miller, and Zwift racing and streaming OG Nathan Guerra.
To sum it up, my involvement with Dads Inside Riding Trainers has been the most amazing journey, and it continues to unfold. Watching our community grow to become a force within online cycling was something completely unexpected. I have tremendous gratitude for the friends that I have made worldwide.
Ride on, and I will see you in Watopia!
Ken “The Badger” Nowell
Editors Note: I hope you enjoyed this first person account by ‘The Badger.’ You can find more interesting background into the History of D.I.R.T in this recent post with insight from founding father Doug!