GU Energy Labs athlete Jack Thompson is not your average cyclist. He’s not really even your average PRO cyclist. Thompson has had a long career in the saddle, starting with competing in triathlons in his teen years and then branching out to longer and bigger objectives that push the boundaries of human athletic achievement. He’s known for feats of endurance like setting a Guinness Book World Record for most kilometers ridden in seven days and riding all 21 stages of the Tour de France in ten days. In 2022, he rode 1 million vertical meters in a year and Everested—climbed 8,848 meters in a single ride—every Friday like clockwork. That’s a lot of riding, even for a pro.
But for 2023, Thompson’s mission looks a little different from years past. In 2022, part of the goal of riding 1 million vertical meters in a year was to help raise awareness and fundraise for mental health—a subject that is near and dear to Thompson’s heart. The social and environmental justice mission Thompson started last year has kicked off a passion for advocacy work that he is fully embracing in 2023. And no surprise: he’s approaching his advocacy work with the same gusto and appetite for taking on big challenges that he applies to any of his athletic pursuits. He’s still riding plenty, he’s just riding with a purpose.
"I love the athletic challenges because they give me a goal...But, it's very one-sided. I'm achieving something and that's great, but I have the ability to help other people along the way, and that's even better." - Jack Thompson
Yuri Hauswald, professional gravel cyclist and Elite Athlete and Community Manager at GU Energy Labs, chatted with Thompson to hear more about what motivated Thompson to take on this cause-oriented work and what’s on tap both on and off the bike for the rest of 2023.
Yuri Hauswald: So one of the things that I've noticed is that you seem drawn to particularly massive endeavors, especially with cycling. For instance, you Everested once a week for an entire year. Why are you drawn to these sorts of things?
Jack Thompson: To begin with, it was an escape from normal life. I didn't enjoy working, I didn't enjoy sitting behind a computer screen, and I wanted to do something that I enjoyed doing. I grew up with a dad that was always off doing adventures. And when I got that bug for cycling again, I decided that I wanted to go and do these bigger types of adventures. I've always had an obsessive personality. I'm diagnosed obsessive compulsive, and so when I do something, I always do it 120 percent. One hundred percent is never enough for me. I slowly started doing more and more on the bike and doing adventures that got longer and longer. It's fortunate that I've been able to convert this into a career and a lifestyle at the same time.
Hauswald: Obviously we get the endorphin benefit from cycling. But I'm curious, you aligned yourself with the mental health cause last year—and I know that's still ongoing—will that thread continue throughout this year as well as the fundraising? Here at GU, we believe in feeling good and doing good. Can you talk a little bit about what it feels like to know that you're making an impact, whether it's through these mental health initiatives or your other causes this year: Climate change, hunger, deforestation? Is there an endorphin hit on that side of it for you too?
Thompson: For me it began with the cycling. I've suffered from depression, and then I worked out that I could use cycling to talk about depression. I had an audience that was willing to listen because they followed me for the cycling journey. And last year, we took that to another level and raised a whole lot of money for people that need mental health care. I almost get more of a kick out of helping people than I do with the athletic challenges. I love the athletic challenges because they give me a goal, they give me a purpose, they give me structure in my day-to-day life. But, it's very one-sided. I'm achieving something and that's great, but I have the ability to help other people along the way, and that's even better. So whether that's me raising money for mental health, whether that's me raising awareness around climate change issues, I as a cyclist am no longer content just cycling. There have to be alternative storylines. And once those storylines are combined—biking and advocacy—I find that the endorphin rush is twice as big.
Hauswald: That was a great answer because as we both know, being a cyclist can be a very selfish endeavor. So by attaching causes to what you do, it opens up the possibilities of who you can impact. Just a sidebar question here: I'm assuming you've had a lot of folks who reach out to you and thank you. Can you talk a little bit about that kind of interaction that I would imagine has happened in this last year since you've been riding for mental health?
Thompson: Yeah, it's amazing. Sometimes I'll get back from a ride, and it may have been a difficult ride, and I'll get in and maybe not really be loving the bike anymore. You know, all those days when it's raining and you're out for five or six hours, and I'll open Instagram or I'll pop open the emails and I'll have a message from somebody saying, "My son's going through this, what would you recommend?" Or, "I've watched your story and I'm on a bike again and I've lost 30 kilos." For me, the sense of satisfaction I get from that is so immense. But it also means that sometimes I question why I do what I do. When I get an answer like that, or a response or a comment like that, it cements that I’m doing something and I'm making a difference. That's pretty fulfilling and rewarding.
Hauswald: Yeah. That's a real tangible example of making a difference, which is huge. OK, let's pivot. I know you have three causes this year. So why don't you tell me about the three causes, and then maybe we'll drill down just a little bit on each.
Thompson: Last year was crazy. It was a whole lot of time on the bike. I realized that this year I need a bit of a break from actually flogging myself. My body's tired and I need to recover. At the same time, I still want to ride my bike. I still want to do crazy things, but like we've just spoken about, I want to do them for a reason.
If I look at the global climate at the moment, I see a world in crisis. Every time you open the news, there's shit happening. And I've picked three world crisis topics that I feel quite attached to: climate change, deforestation and hunger. I'm going to produce three films that document each of those stories in a different landscape around the world. So, for the climate change story, we're heading up to Alaska after Unbound, and we're going to spend some time in the town of Nome where we will be riding, looking at the effects of climate change on the local environment there, and creating a storyline that showcases what we can do as cyclists to help reverse the impacts of climate change on the environment. It's an amazing opportunity to combine two things: cycling and climate change. You can jump online and read things about climate change, but to actually go somewhere like Alaska where there's permafrost that no longer exists, there are melting ice caps, there are people that no longer have jobs because the ice is melting will be a real wake up call. And if there's a way that I can document that in a film and use my audience as a cyclist and the audience of the different brands that support me to showcase that, then great. I hope that it has more of an effect than if someone were to just open the local newspaper and read an article where they can't really see what's going on.
After Alaska, I'll come back home and relax for a little while, and then we've got a trip planned to the Amazon. We're going to Peru, a little town, which is known as the gateway to the Amazon. And again, we're taking bikes, we're actually taking e-bikes and we're going and exploring this region. We're exploring roads that exist only because they've been deforested. I may be naive in coming into this, but I originally thought deforestation was so that we could have paper, but the more that I've researched this, the more that I learn that there are a thousand other reasons why there are forests being logged on a daily basis. And just like I was super green coming into it, I think there is a whole landscape of people that are super green in not knowing why forests are cut down. So, I thought, let's go, let's ride, let's tell that story of deforestation, and again, use the bike as the vehicle to deliver that message because it is a green way of traveling. It is an economic way of traveling, and it's a way that we can do it without actually damaging the environment any more than it is already damaged.
Hauswald: So there's a huge educational component this year to all three of your videos, which is awesome. You're going to be a teacher this year through your pedal strokes. I'm probably one of those folks that's a tad green on the deforestation side, but some of this is clearing so they can run cattle out there, which is its own issue too, like with methane outgassing, right?
Thompson: Yeah. There's methane, there's things like gold mining out there so that they can use gold in iPhones and as consumers, we're driving the deforestation without actually knowing it. So if we can show that, then I think that's a powerful message. Consumerism is actually driving deforestation, so what can we do about it?
Hauswald: Yeah, that's a great point. And then the final, the third issue on your list for this year is hunger in India.
Thompson: So we're going to go to India. I'm actually going to team up with a Dabo Walla. It's a traditional food delivery driver. India has an amazing food delivery system. It's men and women cooking food in their homes, local delivery drivers picking up the food, taking it on bike and delivering it all around the country. And it's a sustainable way of delivering food. But let's look at the fact that we're actually delivering food—which in India is seen as medicine—delivering food on a bicycle and looking at how effective that actually is. There are things that we could learn as a western civilization and adopting these techniques in our own lives from these people that are living in a developing country. So again, I want to use the bike to tell that story of hunger and look at how we can potentially do things better.