Every month, LAVA spends some time with a prominent age-grouper in our sport for our column, iTRI. In case you missed our inaugural issue’s featured athlete and businessman, Ralph Dunning, here’s what he had to say about the sport and his brand’s place within it.
iTRI, Issue 01: Ralph Dunning
Resides: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Profession: Founder and President, Dunning Sportswear
Accomplishments: Founder/Owner, Rip & Hammer Sportswear 1992-2002; 1993 Ironman Europe, 10:20:00 (PR); 2009 Hawaii Ironman, 13:41:41
It was tougher to be authentic back in the early ’90s in triathlon. The reason we did so well was because we visited expos every weekend and talked to people. People looked at our brand and saw a high-quality factor, because we focused on engineering and fabric. It was good to talk to people in order to deliver what they wanted.
I took myself out of triathlon for quite a while. In 1996, I started to blow my knees to pieces. I was committed to running, and the doctor said the cartilage was worn down. So I stopped, and it was depressing. I packed it in and started playing golf.
The Dunning golf brand has become one of the top ones in the sport. When we launched golf tech apparel in 2001, golfers had seen a bit of tech fabric, but our whole range was Coolmax wovens and shorts, with a tour cut that’s slimmer and more athletic. The reaction has been incredible.
We have heritage in the sport—we know why people race. The story behind the logo’s shield is my personal background of being heavily involved in sport. Understanding the culture and the technological side, we put that varsity athletic “D” on top of the stripes; the heritage means classic plus athletic history. That makes people appreciate it. The culture of our sport is phenomenal.
Three years ago, I started riding my bike all the time, and my desire to race triathlon came back. I applied for the lottery to race in Kona for years When I got in [last] year, I literally jumped out of my chair. When I toasted my knee and wasn’t able to run, I felt like I would never get in there. I watched it live 10 times, so to finally participate, it’s fun—for many different reasons.
The wind during the last 50 kilometers was in my face—it was just killer. But you want that, in order to appreciate that race. Racing for completely different reasons was way more fun than I ever imagined. The way my knees are, I felt fortunate to just be in an event. It was great to see how it’s all changed, but is still the same.
Put (Dunning-sponsored athletes) Craig Alexander and (2007 Masters champion) Zach Johnson in same room, and you could be talking to the same person. They’re both so competitive, but have their lives straight. Family comes first, and it’s genuine. The similarities are incredible.
The apparel I raced Kona in—and will launch in April—people will immediately know it’s different. It’s understated, simple and technical, and manufactured in Toronto. It’s gonna be a very limited run, with one operator, hand-done. The goal is to set appointments to go online via webcam and do an online interview [with the consumer] to see their physique. When they get the apparel, it will fit like it should.
When you’re racing and fit? The feeling that comes from it, I think, is why we do it.