HomeInsuranceWhat Do Health Insurance and Gravel Have in Common? Keegan and Sofia

What Do Health Insurance and Gravel Have in Common? Keegan and Sofia

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After she graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado in 2016, Sofia Gomez Villafañe got a part time job as a barista at the Ritual Chocolate cafe in Heber City, Utah.

Since then, she’s worked in various roles — from HR to accounts payable to project manager — for the chocolate company. She has also become one of the best professional cyclists in the United States. At some point Gomez Villafañe could have quit her job with Ritual; she rides for the Specialized Off-Road team and makes a good living through bike racing.

But the bleak reality of the cost of health insurance in the US meant that staying on Ritual’s payroll to get healthcare benefits made financial sense for the almost-30-year-old. In fact, Gomez Villafañe’s partner, Keegan Swenson, was also getting health insurance through her employee-sponsored plan.

sofia gomez villanfane
Gomez Villafañe wins the Leadville Trail 100 in 2023 (Photo: Wil Matthews/Life Time)

Now, through an unconventional new sponsorship, neither of them will have to rely on Gomez Villafañe’s part time job for health insurance. Both athletes will receive support from Fairos, a health insurance product from the OccuNet Company in Amarillo, Texas. As part of the sponsorship deal, Gomez Villafañe and Swenson will have access to Fairos benefits. In fact, Gomez Villafañe has put in her notice at Ritual.

From their winter home in Tucson, Gomez Villafañe and Swenson both told Velo that the Fairos deal feels more like a partnership than a traditional cycling industry sponsorship.

“It’s cool to take advantage of a sponsorship and have access to resources that are a lot of the time complicated and hard to navigate,” Gomez Villafañe said. “It’s really cool and they’ve been nothing but amazing to us. I feel very fortunate that they figured out how to make it work and give me a deal that will have a big impact on what I’m able to do.”

So, why would a health insurance company sponsor two gravel cyclists?

For Alex Fairly, the chairman of the OccuNet Company, there is a synchronicity between Fairos and gravel cycling. He sees a parallel between his company’s health insurance product  — which, he said “costs 30 percent less than traditional network programs” — and the ‘come one, come all’ spirit of gravel racing.

“We have completely walked away from the paradigm of how healthcare is delivered last 30 years,” Fairly told Velo. “It’s confusing and way too expensive. Gravel is changing cycling, It’s creating a better experience for everyone. We see what we’re doing in health insurance as what gravel is doing in cycling. We want to save people money and create better experiences. Gravel, at least for us, has changed cycling for the better.”

If it’s not obvious, this CEO and founder has a personal connection to cycling.

In fact, of Fairly’s five children, three of them were involved with bike racing throughout their adolescence. One of them — Caleb — raced professionally at the WorldTour level from 2011-2015. Caleb Fairly now happens to be the president of the OccuNet Company.

Sofia Gomez Villafañe and Keegan Swenson win the 2023 Life Time Grand Prix series (Photo: Life Time)

Alex Fairly said that the family company has been wanting to “do something formal in cycling” for years now but was waiting for the right thing.

“If we were going to do something, we wanted to work with the very best athletes and didn’t care what it cost,” he said.

In Gomez Villafañe and Swenson, the Fairly’s found both the best athletes and an opportunity to make meaningful change for them. He was particularly touched by Gomez Villafañe’s story of working part-time for health care.

“The plan is to let this [Fairos] be part of their sponsorship and they can live with it and use it,” he said. “So she can say, ‘I don’t have to have a part time job anymore.’”

The deal between Fairos and Gomez Villafañe and Swenson is also groundbreaking in another way: it’s one of the first times that a big non-endemic (that is, outside of the cycling industry) sponsor is backing individual gravel racers. Most professional gravel cyclists earn a living by patching together sponsorships from bike brands like Specialized and Santa Cruz, as well as other cycling-related companies. Generally, the sponsorships are part of a brand’s marketing strategy.

Swenson’s new helmet (Photo: Courtesy OccuNet)

The Fairos deal is also a marketing move. The brand name will be the sole sponsor on Swenson’s Giro helmet for the next three years. Additionally, both he and Gomez Villafañe are ambassadors for the new Valley of Tears gravel race in Texas this weekend, which is also being put on by the Fairly family.

Insofar as the sponsorship is also an attempt to sell a product, Alex Fairly believes that the deal is more meaningful than most.

“We want to build this program around the purity of gravel and the return to simplicity in cycling, which is what we think should happen in healthcare,” Fairly said. “We see what we’re doing in health insurance as what gravel is doing in cycling.”







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