11 Dec The Visionary Behind The Velodrome Development Foundation
Stephen Whisnant, president of the Velodrome Development Foundation, is a visionary leader who has a long history in cycling and a strong belief that indoor velodromes can play a key role in advancing the sport.
But he is best known for his distinguished career in fund raising and general management of nonprofit initiatives including special projects with such diverse institutions as Harvard University, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the United States Institute of Peace, Venture Philanthropy Partners and many more. He has developed long-term fundraising strategies for the Experience Music Project, the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Documentary Film division of Vulcan Productions, and the Microcomputer Gallery in Albuquerque, N.M.
During Steve’s ten year period as a senior development officer and advisor at Harvard, he became actively involved in the community service movement, especially among athletes, and in 1993, he opened the doors of World T.E.A.M. Sports, an international sports nonprofit committed to offering rich and dynamic programs to all levels of athletes, especially persons with disabilities. He served as the organization’s first executive director for 11 years. The organization received international recognition for its work in advancing educational and medical initiatives through sports events.
It was through Steve’s special relationship with Greg LeMond during World T.E.A.M. Sports’ around the world tour that cemented his relationship with cycling. His love of the sport coupled with the character-building aspects of cycling at many levels has led to his leadership of the Velodrome Development Foundation, a non-profit initiative to support of WCL’s National Velodrome Sports and Events Center.
Here is a recent interview with Steve from his company’s office in Washington, DC.
Q: Although your career is full of successful fund raising and consulting projects for both big and small non-profits in many industries, you have a long association with sports and cycling in particular. What’s the connection and what role can velodromes play as a change maker for the sport?
SW: Cycling in a very positive way began to help shape and define my life—certainly professionally when I was running World T.E.A.M. Sports we knew that cycling was one of the most exciting sports where you could work to build and grow diverse teams—and as you may know, our major focus was on integrating teams with athletes with and without disabilities. We accomplished some extraordinary, and grueling sports undertakings, and it was those experiences which drew me more closely to the sport—and I absolutely fell in love with every aspect of cycling. One of my fondest memories was being in Barcelona for the track racing events at the Olympics and from there, that, too, only complemented my overall respect, and love for the sport.
Q: The Velodrome Development Foundation was formed two years ago with the specific objective of attracting major donors to help fund development of the first world class indoor velodrome on the East Coast. What is your fund-raising strategy and how is it going?
It’s pretty simple, and straightforward—make a strong and compelling case about how and why cycling, and this amazing facility can help transform lives, certainly the lives of young people that can be positively impacted at an early age. Once leaders and influencers recognize the goals and value of our mission, we believe a number of them from the immediate region and from around the country will step up to join our Founders Circle of key philanthropic investors. It’s the rare chance to make a huge, positive impact on cycling and a local community, starting in one location and then expanding to others around the country. With Greg and a few other key stakeholders on board, I suspect that we will develop a powerful, no nonsense group.
Q: When did you first meet Greg and Kathy LeMond and what does Greg bring to the project?
We met in the early 1990’s—through a number of mutual friends—and Greg became intrigued, curious and then very involved in our bicycle ride around the world in 1995. He didn’t just lend his name, he actively advocated for us, supported us and participated—and since then, he has been supportive of every single big event I have been involved with. Kathy and Greg and their family are a constant and steady force in my life—and in my family’s life. I love them.
Greg is just an amazing individual. Of course he’s known best for his Tour wins and his uncompromising stand against the scourge that has threatened the sport. And he’s also been a force for innovation–arguably one of the biggest–and is very much aligned with the power of tracks and track cycling as one of the best channels to engage new participants and provide a physical location for development, testing and exciting racing. Greg and Kathy will actively participate in the project. They are both committed to the positive change it brings to cycling.
Q: There have been several attempts in the last few years to develop indoor velodromes on the East Coast. What is the biggest challenge and why do you believe this one will succeed?
I believe the biggest challenge is in creating the first viable model which no one, to this point, has really been able to do.
So much of it has to do with the team. I’m so impressed with the vision and passion and, quite frankly, the knowledge that Dave (Chauner), Rick (Mayer) and John (Nelson) bring to the project. They have assembled an impressive team of talented sports, media and entertainment professionals who are up to the challenge and, most recently, have brought on SFA (Sports Facilities Advisory) to provide the key support we need to build, finance and help manage the venue.
It will be a steady and positive process for us but clearly we have to provide a strong case and slowly chip away at educating and getting people excited about something this new and visionary—see it, feel it and benefit from it and from there, use it as a template to move similar models around the country. The National Velodrome Sports and Events Center has the potential of growing the sport and infusing in cycling a spirit of how and why cycling can be a powerful draw for young people—and for some of us who are older, a sport we can love and appreciate for a lifetime. We will need a loud and forceful voice—but I think we can do this. And with it all, make a difference. I’m excited to be part of it!