Recover ambassador Dave Alexander was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. Once you’ve called North Carolina home, it’s tough to beat. Dave is someone that didn’t have to go too far to realize that with the wild mountains and technical mountain bike trails right in his town’s backyard, he was right where he wanted to be. At 24, he started a career working for Keen, a company that offers its employees paid time off to fulfill their employee community volunteer quota. In 2013, Dave enrolled in the local Big Brothers Big Sisters Program and met 9 year old Kai Mattinas. Little did Dave know, he was meeting a future mountain bike racer, snowboard ripper, and lifelong friend and adventure buddy.
If you’ve ever had a taste of teaching someone something life-changing from day one and then relishing in the moment you can’t keep up with them, you’ll know why Dave couldn’t completely put words to his experience and ongoing friendship with Kai. But here’s what he could put words to about how a little bit of effort can change someone’s life- and your own.
Dave, tell us about first meeting Kai...
Big Brothers Big Sisters does a good job matching mentors and kids with similar interests. Kai loves being outside and at the time, he got outside through playing soccer, shooting hoops, and playing paintball in the woods. I have always just been obsessed with the Southern Appalachian mountains and backpacking, mountain biking, skiing- all the sports this area has to offer. Kai’s school had a ski and snowboard club, so I volunteered to be chaperone for that. I ski, but he wanted to learn how to snowboard so I decided we could learn together. It was only three or four winters before I had to get back on skis because I could not keep up- he learned so quickly. Eventually I gave him my board and said, ‘Now that you’re tall enough, you can have this.’
How did you finagle gear so that Kai had the opportunity to be introduced to snowboarding and mountain biking?
When he got bigger, he could borrow my own gear, but when he was younger I just did what I could to get him what was needed to get into it. For snowboarding, I tried my best to piece anything together. I called my buddy at the local ski shop to get Kai a lease on a board for the winter, got him a pair of Keen boots, went to Good Will to try to find gloves, scarfs, whatever we could find that fit him. He’d work for things too, save up money and mow my lawn to make money to buy a bike and things like that, and once he was older, he’d get hand-me-downs from me and my friends. Recover sponsored our recent bike trip when I drove him out to college this fall- things like the sun hoodies and bike jerseys Recover gave him are huge.
How did Kai take to snowboarding and mountain biking at the start?
The second time we went snowboarding together, it was zero degrees- so cold and Kai was only nine- he was little. Learning to snowboard is brutal, you’re constantly falling so hard and catching edges on the ice, but Kai kept wanting to go for another run. Way past when I was really ready to call it a day and grab hot chocolate, he was still going. For mountain biking, Kai happens to live a half mile from Kitsuma, which has a 1000 foot descent trail. It’s one of the best on the East Coast. I let him borrow a bike of mine and we started riding Kitsuma and other trails around here. Riding grabbed him more than anything else. He was riding that trail all the time and getting really fast. 4.5 miles top to bottom in 28 minutes or something. He had a natural ability you could tell when you followed him that he was really comfortable in the air. That trail is a rough trail- our mountains are old. Kai’s first big crash I could hear his ribs hit, but he got right back up. He had gotten so good so fast, he was riding tough stuff quickly and those big crashes are bound to happen.
In general, our mountain biking out here is like our skiing. If you can learn out east, you can ski anywhere out west. It’s all really rough and he is so comfortable on all of it. It’s pretty amazing that those two passions drove him towards looking at colleges out west.
Where did Kai decide to go to college and how was your off-to-college bike trip out there?
He chose Western Colorado University in Gunnison, which I was happy about because it would only take me two days to drive there to see him- it’s closer than British Columbia, where he was also looking at a school. No one expected Kai to go to college, but he said he wanted to and worked for it- mountain biking and snowboarding totally drove his choice. It’s so crazy to have introduced him to those, and now have them be driving his choices for attending college. When he decided to go, I told him I’d move him out there and we made a trip of it- riding for a week and then his mom flew out to meet us at the start of his term. He cares about his mom a lot. My wife and I are close with her too.
What inspires you to work with Recover as an ambassador?
Bill and I have been buddies since before he started Recover. I was twenty-two and looking for other people to go outside with. Someone would put it out there, ‘be at the gas station at this odd hour’ and Bill would show up every time with his super janky bike, bent handlebar- you name it- it didn’t matter to him, he just loved to ride. He got really into riding and we became good friends. I have always been a big fan of Recover because of Bill more than anything else, but through working with Keen as my main job, I have knowledge and appreciation for Recover’s doing a good job with having a clean supply chain and using recycled materials. I appreciate that Recover makes a really good active layer that’s recycled, and the fly fishing company I work for chooses Recover for its shirts because of the performance, durability, and price point.
How did you see the outdoors impact Kai in other scopes of his life?
When Kai was really struggling with school, and asking ‘Do I have to learn this stuff?’, I let him know that being a professional for a long time, I haven’t used a lot of it- but- it’s all about learning work habits and skills that translate down the road. I kept telling him that when you find something you’re interested in, it will become galvanized and easier to focus. Mountain biking has helped him find interest and focus more in school. You could see the change in school and other aspects of life when he gained his connection to the mountains. School was not that big a deal to him anymore, because there was a clear reward. The mentality was “I want to ride this afternoon, so I need to knock out some homework and chores.” Biking is taking him places. He’s on the bike team in college and they had races and went camping every weekend this fall- who knows, maybe he’ll end up working in the outdoor or bike industry.
Any final words?
What comes to mind most for me was when Kai turned 18 and the Big Brothers Big Sisters program was over, the “end” was never something we ever worried about. We look at each other as brothers, and I am excited to continue to be a big part of his life moving forward, and have him be a part of mine.