Kelly Magelky’s Quest to Produce Both Award Winning Films and Race For Gold

It’s 1:30 pm on September 5, 2014 — one day before Kelly Magelky defends his title at the Winter Park Epic 50 Mile Marathon Mountain Bike race – when I enter the 34-year-old’s office in Golden, Colorado. He’s so engrossed in his work he barely notices me.

The Epic 50 – located 60 miles west of here in Fraser Valley – is a single-track 25-mile loop with four aid stations three to six miles apart. Solo category is two 25-mile times around the course.

It’s Magelky’s last race until the Solo 24 Hour World Championships at Fort William, Scotland in a month on October 10-11 and his chance to take gold from the favorite Jason English.

Photo by John Lloyd
Photo by John Lloyd

Magelky and his wife Rachel Sturtz live in Denver but he commutes to Golden for quick access to the mountains. His office is tucked up against an alleyway adjacent to a Mexican restaurant. Low indie music is playing in the background. Production cameras and computers with oversized double monitors are lined up along a series of narrow desks. Magelky’s brown, wavy hair sticks out from behind a 36” screen in the far back corner of the office.

Even though most days Magelky rides for two to three hours, he spends six to eight hours editing film. “You have to pretend that there is a gun against your head [when you’re editing]” he says. He not only wants to be the ultra mountain bike world champion, he wants to make award-winning films. Even he admits it’s a hard balance.

He’s planning the short-release of his upcoming Country feature-film with the working title ‘They Called Us Outlaws’ with legendary stars such as Kris Kristopherson, Willie Nelson – three one and a half hour films –in two weeks at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Also while in Austin he’ll shoot an interview with country star Marcia Ball. Then it’s back to the editing board.

“It will be a feature film trilogy (3 – 1.5-hour films). I’m a producing partner on it. Our director, Eric Geadelmann, is here this week while we knock out a short version – mainly as a creative exercise for us to explore the feel/pacing of the film. The ultimate deadline is June 2015,” he said.

Four or five transcribed books lay open on his desk; he’s mid-edit on film clips and finishes up a few tasks and steps away from the screens.

Magelky runs Filament Productions, which opened its doors in 2003. Today the company works with a contractor group consisting of editor Ben “Franchise” Turner and two shooters, David Grauberger and Luke Askelson. They specialize in short format programming and feature-length films. In the last 11 years Filament has filmed in India, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Spain, Jamaica, Israel, Colombia, and the US and worked with brands such as Trek Bikes, Sony, and Universal, and with musicians Fray and Big Head Todd & The Monsters. The Feature-length documentary Magelky co-produced and edited called ‘Dave’ was Official Selection and Winner at 18 film festivals.

The War Room

We cross the house and sit down on two cotton couches, in the “war room,” as he calls it. One couch is black, the other white. The walls are all white too, except for a lime green wall where he has a clear dry erase board.

“It’s my favorite thing in this whole place,” he says. “It’s for throwing out ideas, coming up with plans. Being creative. It’s funny, you can see all of the movies in our trilogy all lined up.” He takes a sip of mint tea from his favorite mug.

He’s in slim dark blue jeans, black cotton shirt and zipped open hooded sweatshirt. I comment on his well-worn mahogany wingtips. “I’m a total shoe guy, actually,” he says, laughing. “These are my favorite shoes. I’ve probably had these seven to eight years.”

I ask if he’s concerned about the balance – after all, his world championship race is in a month, and he’s deep in video deadline-land. He repositions himself in his seat. “It’s hard to be a pro mountain biker and a pro filmmaker. They don’t scream security,” he says.

He tells me how he’s so wrapped up in projects that when Rachel offers to show him a two-minute YouTube video he declines. “It’s a big enough distraction to slow me up,” he says. [I] wake up in the morning thinking I have this and this and this to do and I just want to get right into it. “

His mind floods with questions. “Will I get sick? Will I get up early enough and have the energy to work all day? And vice versa with the work. I’m training so hard. To be so tired — will I be able to be a good filmmaker, you know, and not just push buttons?”

Two Days After the Epic 50

Kelly checks in over email and fills me in on the results of the Epic 50. Despite mental fatigue, which he credited to his previous races, he had a strong lead for most of the race. But, after two hard crashes and damaging his hands in the process, he ended up losing to Carter Shaver by two seconds. One of his hands is still hurting and he’s hoping he doesn’t have a fracture. Otherwise he’s in good spirits and feels prepared for the win in Scotland.

Early Career

A week after graduating high school at 18, Kelly moved from Dickinson, in southwest North Dakota, to Keystone, Colorado to become a ski bum. In 1999 he enrolled at Red Rocks Community College, then spent a year studying engineering before changing direction. In 2001 he enrolled in CU Denver/Colorado Film School.

Kelly and the author riding in Golden, CO. Photo: John Lloyd
Kelly and the author riding in Golden, CO.
Photo: John Lloyd

He got his first taste of filmmaking during his junior year in high school as a skate rat in North Dakota when he and close friend David Ebeltoft “decided to throw a video together using two VCRs and a CD player,” he said. He credits David with giving him confidence and motivation to pursue film as a career. “He talked me into pursuing something I love, filmmaking. I still owe him for that. He’s also still one of the best people I know.”

In the movies, he and four friends perform slide outs and heel flips down a flight of stairs. They made their video during the middle of winter and had to wear oil field work gloves to protect their hands from the cold.

After skating he turned to car racing. His stepfather, Gary, provided Kelly and his three year older brother, Tracey, an opportunity to build and race a stock car. “It was an amazing experience and one that I draw from to this day,” he said. At 16 he and Tracey, with whom he was fiercely competitive, built a car together and traded weekends racing it. “Eric went on to become a great champion. In fact, two weeks ago he won another season championship up in Mandan, ND.” Tracey will be supporting him in Scotland.

Then came skiing and finally biking.

Once in Thornton, Colorado, friend Micah Pelton turned him onto mountain biking by taking him out to a steep technical area at Apex. “I live for technical climbing now, but back then I had no idea what I was doing. I also felt like my lungs were going to explode — I didn’t know how steep it got because I ended up vomiting 20 minutes into the ride. I was so defeated.”

Dry heaving by the side of the trail he watched someone fly by him while on the downhill. It was then he knew he had to make it to the top. Undeterred, he got his first suspension mountain bike, a second-hand, purple, Specialized Rock Hopper for $200.

From then on, “I was soaking up everything. I kept driving out here [to ride] and that’s what made me fall in love with Golden,” he says. “I met Olympians, champions, pros – and most of them just went out of their way to help me and [they] took me under their wings.”

Magelky began competing in 2003, went pro in 2006, and joined the Trek/ Volkswagen team in 2008.

“I just don’t want to stop working. I love what I do but it can get stressful. I worked until 2 am last night.”

Twice Magelky finished second in the national championships in 2009, 2010. And second in the world championships in 2007. He’s over being Mr. Second.

His Pit Crew

Magelky’s race support consists of his direct and indirect family members from North Dakota including his parents, brother Tracy, aunt, uncle, and “my main man Nick [Howe], who runs the show.” Nick funded his first world championship and was Magelky’s only pit crewmember. And George Mullen – “the ‘Mayor of Cycling Town, I call him – has been the same way for me.”

Magelky competed in several 24-hour races, and once duked it out with ‘legend,’ Tinker Juarez for 22 hours – just the two of them up in front — earning him second place by a mere two seconds. He’s confident to win because experience and his physical therapy is on his side, he says.

Ruptured Disk

Kelly pauses, leans forward and tells me about an injury he received two years ago to his back caused from prolonged periods of sitting while editing film.

His understanding is that he has a ruptured disk and a tear in the other. “The disk material went into my sciatic nerve from sitting and it cut off movement to my left leg,” he said.

The injury occurred in 2012 when he was training for the world championships. When he couldn’t walk for more than five minutes or stand for 10 he saw the doctor. Once there, Magelky showed the doctor how he couldn’t lift his body up on his left toes which indicated severe nerve damage. The doctor told him he may not be able to race professionally again, and would likely need surgery. Magelky was forced to cancel his seat in the race.

To avoid surgery he tried a new technique called dry needling.

Dry needling, or intramuscular stimulation performed with hollow steel needles, triggered the nerves in his back and dramatically helped with the healing process. Before receiving that treatment the backs of his calves were numb. “I came back swinging,” he says.

“I’m better now,” he says, except for random cramping in the back of his legs, or “shadow cramping,” as he calls them, which may go away or may not.

Physical therapy has been incredibly core intensive, and has given him extra strength and confidence.

Why He Thinks He’ll Win

He recently blogged about racing the Badlands in North Dakota winning the 100-mile race just shy of nine hours at 8:56.

Leaving the 3rd aid station, I let the idea of a sub-9 hour day enter in my head. I started calculating the time it would take and it looked like it would be close. I told myself to limit bathroom breaks (if I could!) and to start taking some more risks. This is where I started to feel the fatigue. I started riding a little harder and I had a couple small crashes (one in front of the photographer). That’s when I had ‘the talk’ with myself. I wanted nothing more than to have a straightforward finish to the race. I’d been out for nearly 9 hours and didn’t want to suffer and stress all the way to the line.

“I feel really great. That’s the other thing in my court. I can’t say that I think I’m going to win, but I’ve set my self to do it. It’s racing, so you never know. When you add pro in front of mountain biker it gives you an excuse to ride every day. I love it.”

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Chris Van Leuven

Raised sailing and backpacking, Chris began climbing rocks as a teenager. 20 years later, Chris still climbs several days a week. He writes about travel, adventure and climbing. Follow him on Facebook: facebook.com/WriterChrisVanLeuven.

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