Nick Symmonds has always been a bit of an underdog, catapulting from a track career at a small liberal arts college (Willamette University) to become a 6-time U.S. Champion in the 800 meters, a two-time Olympian, and a Silver Medalist at the 2013 World Championships.
He’s a champion of underdogs beyond the track, taking on the governing bodies of his sport for athlete’s rights and roiling the sponsorship waters by auctioning off his body ($21,800 this year from T-Mobile CEO John Legere for a temporary tattoo). He’s also an outspoken advocate for human rights.
You’ve described yourself as a “disruptor.” Would your mom characterize your childhood the same way?
Absolutely! But, then again, she made me this way. My parents always taught me to question the status quo and to speak out when I saw something that didn’t sit right with me.
How’d you come up with the idea to auction off your body for sponsors?
I had seen something similar done by Adam Nelson (Olympic Shot-putter) early on in my career when he sold space on his singlet. I thought it was brilliant. I took it to the next level by auctioning off skin.
What’s the crux of your disagreement with your sports’ governing bodies?
The biggest issue I have is the fact that they want to control all of the advertising space. If they want to do this, then they need to share 50% of their revenue, otherwise they need to relax their rules so that athletes can market themselves to sponsors.
Any progress with the governing bodies of USA Track and Field and the Olympics on revenue sharing with athletes?
Not much, the greedy executives at these organizations seem to be mostly concerned with shoving money into their own pockets.
Have other athletes galvanized around your online campaign for revenue sharing, #OwnYourSkin?
Many have, but until we have a strong, unified athletes union it is very difficult to bring about meaningful change.
Your company, Run Gum, filed an antitrust lawsuit against the U.S. Olympic Committee and the USA Track and Field, which a U.S. District Court judge dismissed. Will you appeal?
We have appealed.
Speaking of your new company, Run Gum, how’s it going?
Really well. Run Gum is growing at such a quick pace right now. It is exciting, but also very stressful! Growing Run Gum is my number one focus right now and takes up most of my day.
So give us your quick pitch: What makes Run Gum a better choice than other energy products?
One really simple reason: nothing in your stomach to slow you down! Every other energy product requires you to swallow something. I want ENERGY, I’m not thirsty! We took everything in an energy drink and infused it into two pieces of chewing gum; all the energy, none of the extra junk.
You’re also an outspoken advocate for human rights, especially those of the gay community. Was social justice modeled for you or did it evolve organically over time
I simply believe in equal rights for all people. If you give one person certain rights, and exclude others from those same rights, that is wrong. I was taught from an early age to speak out when I saw something taking place that I believed to be wrong.
Moving beyond track and field, if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
The unequal allocation of opportunity.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I wish I was two inches taller.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
A bagel with cream cheese.
What scares you?
What are you reading right now?
Who inspires you?
Elon Musk. He thinks outside the box.
Green. I like trees.
Rock, paper, or scissors?
Rock because it is naturally occurring.
What’s one question you’d like to ask yourself – and answer?
Where can I go to buy Run Gum? The answer to that is RunGum.com :)