The Rider

May 28, 2010

A Big Hug For Kelley

Filed under: The Pelotonia Staff — The Blog @ 6:03 AM

By the end of last year’s Pelotonia ride, let’s just say Kelley Griesmer – Pelotonia’s director of operations – was a little bit frazzled.

“The whole thing was surreal,” she said of putting together this logistical high-wire act. “And putting it together in 10 months, a major event like this, well … there were a heck of a lot of details and I’m a detail person.”

And then, at Slate Run, as the 180-mile riders finished, something happened that made it all worthwhile, and was yet another reminder of why Kelley gave up her successful law career, took a huge pay cut and took a chance with a brand-new, fund-raising ride with an unusual name.

That's Kelley on the left, with Jessica Kinman, Pelotonia's director of publicity and communication. They sort of look like sisters, don't they?

“This guy finished and got off his bike … and came over and hugged me,” she said. “I didn’t know him and I don’t know how he knew who I was. It was amazing that someone would do that and express their thanks for something I thought I couldn’t get my arms around.”

But this anonymous – and appreciative – rider was sure able to get his arms around Kelley, who said this wasn’t something that happened very often during her long legal career.

And now, as Kelley and her crew of Pelotonia staffers and army of volunteers prepare for the second annual ride, she promises improvements galore and an even better and more rewarding experience for everyone.

Kelley grew up in Akron, and attended Indiana University with the idea of becoming a journalist. After a career change of heart, she ended up at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law. On her first day of class she found herself sitting between Greg Gorospe and Liza Kessler. One she married, the other became her best friend. And as fate would have it, Liza is the sister of Tom Lennox, Pelotonia’s executive director.

But I’ll get to that in due time.

Kelley, Greg and Liza all eventually wound up at the Columbus office of the Jones Day law firm – and all eventually made partner. Kelley enjoyed practicing law, but yearned – that’s right, she actually yearned – for something more.

“The older I got, the more I realized that it’s been a fun ride, but it’s not what I set out to do,” she said.

Speaking of fun rides…

Through Liza, Kelley knew and hung out with Tom Lennox – who in 2008 was named executive director of this new Pelotonia fund-raising ride – and had to quickly put together a staff.

“We were all at a Dave Matthews show and another friend, Kristen, said to Tom that you should talk to Kelley about working for you,” Kelley said. By the way, she’s a HUGE Dave Mathews fan, but more on this later.

They began to meet and talk about it, with Kelley interested, but concerned about making such an abrupt career change.

Kelley's on the left, Pelotonia ED Tom Lennox is in the middle, and Jessica is on the right

“In the end I realized I never set out to make the big bucks and my husband was very supportive,” she said. “We said, ‘Can we afford this?’ We didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle, but we have a 7-year-old son and we said, ‘Can we still give him an education?’”

The answers to all these questions were eventually yes – and Kelley took a deep breath … and made the leap.

“I knew it would work and we’d be OK,” she said. “It’s really paid off and I’m so much happier doing what I’m doing.”

And what she does is plan, think about planning, do some more planning and organizing … and then replan and plan some more – and work with Pelotonia’s fulltime staff and volunteers.

“My role is to think about and plan for the entire weekend and make sure the rider experience, from the minute they register until they get off their bike at the end and even the next two months when they continue to fund raise, that the experience is a high-quality and carefree as possible.”

This means organizing everything, from the portable toilets (there will be 275 this year) to the food all along the route, to making sure the tents (about 25) are set up, getting all the necessary permits, working with about 10 different police departments who will be stationed along the route and making sure bikes and bags and secure and where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be.

And yes, there were a few problems last year: there were so many enthusiastic, encouraging volunteers in front of the entrance drive to the first rest stop that many riders missed the rest stop; there weren’t enough toilets at the second rest stop, some bags went to the wrong dorm at Ohio University and there wasn’t any coffee on Sunday morning in Athens.

“The thing that was amazing is that everyone was so forgiving,” Kelley said. “They could have chewed me out and didn’t and I think it’s because everyone was there for a reason, a cause, and that was more important than all the little things.”

But with a year’s experience under her belt, Kelley and her crew are determined to reach a state of near perfection and be on top of every single little – and big – thing. They have updated and improved the tagging system for the bike corral and bags being sent to Athens, there will be even more toilets, the volunteers will be more organized and experienced, there’s a new 75-mile route and riders will be pampered even more.

And yes, there will be coffee in Athens on Sunday morning!

“There was a miscommunication,” Kelley said of coffeegate, a problem between the vendor and the Pelotonia staff. And no, the coffee vendor wasn’t Bob Evans, which donated all the food for Sunday morning’s breakfast in Athens, but was not responsible for bringing coffee.

“They were so generous and this year they are working with us to make sure we get coffee,” Kelley said of the Bob Evans people.

As is the case for so many Pelotonia riders, the entire weekend has become a family tradition and bit of a reunion. Greg will volunteer and ride, Kelley’s mom and dad will volunteer again, as will her brother and sister-in-law.

“They did all the jobs I needed someone to do, whenever I needed them,” Kelley said of her personal staff of volunteers.

Dreams do come true! That's Kelley on the left, Dave whats-his-name (OK, Matthews) in the middle, and Kelley's friend Kristen on the right

Kelley has one more item on her wish list for Pelotonia – and it’s the Dave Matthews Band. She’s a total Dave fanatic, and has seen him perform live 86 times – a total that will be up to 92 by the end of this year. Her Pelotonia office is plastered with Dave posters.

“At some point my goal is to have him perform at our opening ceremonies,” she said.

Hey, maybe Dave will give her a hug.

10 Things about Kelley….

Favorite ride

Pelotonia

Dream ride

Napa Valley

Current bike

Giant Avail

Dream bike

A Ridley

Favorite movie

Anchorman or The Hangover

Favorite TV show

Lost

Favorite Book

The Secret Life of Bees

Favorite musician/group

Dave Matthews

Favorite athlete

Jody Shelley

Favorite post-ride meal

Pepperoni pizza and Coke with real sugar

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