Ted’s Talk with James Stout

Our next guest on Ted’s Talk was a professional cyclist with Team Type 1. He is the Executive Director of the Diabetes Community Empowerment Project, an organization which uses peer mentored and goal focused exercise to educate and empower Native American communities to live healthier, happier lives. And that’s a small sliver of what James does. The two of us met and quickly got caught up at the Velocio athlete summit in Mammoth in early May. A fascinating, well spoken, and deftly written individual, I think you’ll enjoy this convo. 

Friendly chatter between yours truly and James between gasping breaths at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, CA. Photo: Velocio/Meg McMahon

Tell me your name and what your passport reads?

James Stout. British, err Great Britain.

And how long have you been living in America?

Coming up on a decade, with a little bit of time living in Europe in the middle.

What was the initial draw to the states, chasing weather?

Yeah, I wanted to race my bike. As a junior, I raced a lot in places people typically don’t go to race bikes. Venezuela where there were dudes everywhere with guns or Serbia. It’s hectic as f…

Whoa, I’ve never done the junior Tour of Serbia. What was your initial draw to cycling, family?

No. It was a… transition period for them. My father was a professional rugby player and his father the same. I was rowing crew and wanted to do lightweights. I always found myself riding to and from, and I just liked that more. I’d always mountain biked when I was a kid. I had magnesium flat bar mountain bike. I did some races and did okay, but I put some slicks on that bad boy.

Did you have mentors or just figure it out on your own?

I don’t know what it’s like now, but British cycling has a great club program, so I got picked up by some mentors there. They showed me that I could keep up with everybody but I was riding around scared shitless. They said stuff like, “Your number goes on the back, not on the front” or taught me that I was bonking because I didn’t bring food.

James is not hunting, he’s just wearing orange. Photo: Velocio/Meg McMahon

How many years did you race professional?

Not many, just two or three. I bounced around at the end.

Tell me about that European escapade, that was bike racing related?

Yup, I raced bikes for a few teams in Spain, in Catalonia, and in Belgium. But I missed the sunshine so I came back.

You have a PhD, if I’m not mistaken, something related to Catalan athletics?

Sports history, actually.

I’m interested in the use of sport to create identities in pre-civil war Catalonia. My PhD is a look at how it is that a country that doesn’t have the same language you can bring migrants into the nation using sport.

Holy heck, that’s heady stuff. Which came first, you racing bikes or you interested in this field of pre-civil war Catalonia?

Me racing bikes. The PhD is a great thing to do when you’re recovering from racing bikes. Turns out sitting down is a good way to read, so that helped.

You’re actually the second person I’ve interviewed who’s a journalist. Unlike pitching to an MLB pitcher, this is really hard. Tell me about your segue from cycling to journalism. No no, better yet, please state your current profession.

What I do now is write freelance for a number of publications. Bicycling, Rouleur, Peloton, Men’s Journal, some of the magazines you read in your seatback pocket on airplanes…

Photo: Velocio/Meg McMahon

James, what do you say we drop to the back of the group rather than trying to talk while pulling it along? 

Good idea! I’m also a professor of modern world history at Mesa College in San Diego.

What spurred the journalism, was it cycling related?

I really liked writing and have a lot of stories to tell. As an academic, I’m working on a book now that… not many people will read.

A memoir?

It’s about the 1936 alternative to the Berlin olympics and anti-facism.

When I raced, I had a blog and given I have type 1 diabetes, I have stories to tell. So as I was racing I would visit kids in the hospital. I remember talking to one kid and he was having a really tough week and he told me he’d been reading my blog. That was really really cool.

I got picked up by Rob at Ride Cycling Review, he liked my steeze so he picked me up and let me write the most obscure shit. I’d just pitch him features and he’d go with it. I did one about the third place: the place that is not work not home. Places that we don’t own, that we share, so we can just talk to each other. I’m not in your space and you’re not in mine, so we can talk about stuff that we couldn’t do anywhere else. It’s imperative for democracies to work properly.

Sounds like something all our readers appreciate and part of the reason cycling is the new golf. Thanks for taking the time James. And now back to trying to breathe.

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