Last week Nike held a two-day women’s summit to give a behind-the-scenes first-look at their new Women’s Spring/Summer 2015 product line. Besides flaunting an array of colorful and stylish polyester, fitted lycra and knitted shoes in a gallery space located in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, the summit also acted as a platform to showcase Nike’s competitive stand in the women’s athletic marketplace. With contenders such as Athleta and Lululemon rising in the ranks of functional and fashionable fitness apparel, Nike aims to not only dominate the entire athletic women’s space, but also shape the future of women in sports by interconnecting athlete-sponsorship, product innovation and social media use.
“Sport is constantly changing and women are evolving entirely new kinds of activity at a rapid pace. And that means they have new needs, which are creating new insights and also inspiring new products,” says Nike CEO Mark Parker in his introductory speech kicking-off the summit. “We make it our mission to match this energy everyday and that’s what makes us better.”
Nike’s sponsored athletes firmly believe in what the brand can do for their sport. In a women’s athlete panel hosted by American sprinter and Olympic gold-medalist Allyson Felix on day two of the summit, pro surfer Carissa Moore, WNBA player Skylar Diggins, marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson, Chinese professional tennis player Li Na and Paralympic triathlete Sarah Reinertsen shared what has contributed to their individual successes and their thoughts on the growth of women participating in each of their sports. After the panel, though, I was able to get an exclusive interview with Joan Benoit Samuelson, Allyson Felix and Sarah Reinertsen who reveal why as runners they’ve stuck with the powerhouse brand and what their training looks like these days (because we could always use some great tips from the pros).
Q: In describing your relationship with Nike, what does this brand offer for female athletes that other brands do not?
Joan Benoit Samuelson: “Everybody talks about the longevity of my career and I give that credit to Nike for keeping me in the game this long because of the product development and the innovative spark that they’ve brought to the sport and to women’s athletics. You know as I’ve changed and aged, the product has been able to support me because of the advances in technology. Twenty-five-plus years ago Nike ran a campaign with me titled, ‘There’s no finish line.’ Back then I didn’t really get it and I don’t think Nike realized the athlete they’ve kept for that campaign. And now I’m getting it because I’m still as passionate about the sport as I was back then. My goals are different now, but I’m able to tell stories that keep me motivated and keep the people in our sport motivated as well. When I have older runners like myself come up to me and thank me for what I’ve done, and then the younger runners who thank me as well as their role model, I just thank you for inspiring me because it’s a two-way road in our sport. We all inspire each other. So I’m just delighted to still be sharing that road with so many women and as we said the numbers have just been growing.”
Allyson Felix: “I’ve been with Nike since 2009. What really struck me with them is that they’ve really involved me in the process of creating product specifically for me and that’s something I’ve never experienced before—going up to the lab, seeing everything that’s done and them asking me, ‘what do I want to accomplish’ and ‘how can we help you do that.’ They actually give me the resources to have a better product. That’s amazing because then I can focus on what I’m good at, which is the training and running, and they can do what they’re good at. We make a perfect team. It gives me more confidence, and I don’t have to worry.”
Sarah Reinertsen: “I’ve been part of the innovation of many different things from speakers to tights. But one of the things that is most unique about Nike is that it even created an innovation that helped on my prosthetic foot. I use the Flex-Run and it’s a C-shaped foot. It’s this crazy shape that I used to not be able to put a shoe on and I had to rip apart shoes and glue them to the bottom of the carbon fiber and Nike actually made these soles that could slip on and off. They would make them for me, but when I would go to these races, all the other amputee athletes would go, ‘Where did you get that! Oh my god, that’s so cool. I want one!’ And what was so exciting is that we were able to bring that to the marketplace. Now amputees all over the world have had that problem solved. They don’t need to be ripping apart shoes and gluing them. They can get these soles and slide them on and off and we even have different treads. It works on the track too. We have a specifically designed Nike track pad. They [Nike] really follow their mottos. One of their mottos is, ‘if you have a body, you are an athlete,’ and they are supporting athletes with all different kinds of bodies. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of to be associated with Nike and help them elevate that message. Because it’s authentic and it’s real, and they’re really doing that work in the kitchen.”
Q: What’s your go-to training move and fuel that you use, whether you’re training for a long distance race or a sprint?
AF: “I’m all about plyometrics. There’s this jump called the box squat. So that’s my go-to move. I feel ready to go, powerful and strong after doing that move. Whenever I have a lull in my training, I get back to my plyometrics. As for fuel, I’m big on snacking so I always have some kind of nuts or granola bar. I’m always hungry.”
SR: “Fueling day-to-day I call myself a grazer and I like to snack and keep my body fueled. But also, since I’m a 5- to 6-hour marathoner, fueling becomes a very real thing for me in the marathon because you literally have to keep gassing that tank to keep on going. So when I’m doing New York in a couple weeks I’ll have my fanny pack and I’ve got a couple things to keep me going like power gels and salt tablets, which has a little sodium and potassium that helps with cramping. In fact I always try to remind new runners who are coming into the field that you have to consider fueling. It’s the fourth event in Ironman, the swim, the bike, the run and your nutrition and fuel is like another event. You’ve got to take that same focus and figure out what’s going to work for your body when you’re exercising, what you can keep down, what’s going to make you feel good and what tastes good. So fuel is important.”