Ambassador program adapts, responds, and re-engages as live relays resume across the country
By Leah Etling
If you’ve ever met a Ragnar Relay ambassador, you probably noticed their passion immediately.
In the first couple of minutes of a conversation, Ragnar’s grassroots marketing manager Kimmi Vander Veen describes the current 150 Ragnar ambassadors as runners who “bleed orange,” “breathe Ragnar” and “keep the orange Ragnar fire alive.”
Vander Veen would know – before she came to work at Ragnar, she was an enthusiastic ambassador for the relay and trail running brand herself. She has the tattoo and the race experience to prove it. Over the last year, she’s played an important role in guiding the Ragnar Ambassador program to a new, hybrid virtual/live event version.
“I ran my first Ragnar in February of 2013, it was the Miami to the Keys event (Ragnar Relay Florida Keys, a 200 mile road relay). I was a stranger. My friends had invited me to join their team, but they didn’t tell me that they were all in the other van,” she recalled.
Eight years later, the strangers in the van are now lifelong friends. The next year, Vander Veen and her vanmates reconvened for the first ever Ragnar Trail Florida, which marked the beginning of her ambassador journey and eventually joining the Ragnar staff.
“Ragnar Trail is amazing. The camping, camaraderie, and opportunity to be together for the entirety of the event is just really cool. I was an ambassador for Ragnar Trail Florida for four years before coming on board as an employee.”
While leading the ambassador program, she brings that same participant passion. Though Ragnar ambassadors were relaying only virtually for almost all of 2020, they still got exceptionally excited about the experience. One requirement was that the new ambassadors be social media savvy and able to engage online, both to promote the brand and participate in virtual events.
“They really truly embody the excitement that Ragnar brings both in the event space and they’re just the most excited participants,” Vander Veen said of the ambassadors. “Some of them have not even participated in a Ragnar yet, they just feel that spirit, which is amazing to me.”
Among their veteran participants is Kyler Wilson, a Ragnar “Immortal” ambassador who has run more than 12 Ragnar events in a single year and 36 live events to date. He spent his 2020 weekends participating in more than 20 virtual relay events.
“We would do a run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, splitting up the legs between runners all over the country. There wasn’t much else to do anyway, so we would run,” recalled Wilson, 42. He also sports the Ragnar logo permanently on his calf, a tattoo he got following his very first Florida Keys race in 2015.
Wilson was very much looking forward to getting back to his first live event, Ragnar Trail Florida, which was held Dec. 3-4. In 2021, the Salt Lake City-based company was able to hold a partial schedule of 26 events in 19 states, with live events dependent on state and regional regulations.
For Wilson, resuming live events was about the same thing that has made him so passionate about Ragnar in the first place: the people.
“After you hang out and spend two straight days in a van or a campsite with them, you become good friends. It’s sort of like online dating. In that It increases your exposure to people tenfold if not hundredfold.”
The graphic designer estimates that he’s met thousands of new running, camping and drinking buddies through Ragnar over the years. And it was seeing them again that made him most excited live events are back. He became an ambassador for much the same reason.
“It was something I was doing anyway – talking up Ragnar all the time to whoever would listen,” he said. “If there’s something I enjoy and something that’s unique and brings joy to my life, I want to make sure that everyone knows about it.”
His pitch to first-time potential participants is this:
“You’ve got to try it. It sounds silly, but it will actually change your life.” And may even make you immortal.