Photography by Sammy Deleo
SHIMANO Gravel Alliance member and 2x Unbound 200 winner Amanda Nauman is more than just a super fast bike racer. The SoCal standout also works in the aviation industry and recently promoted and executed the first edition of Mammoth Tuff gravel race in the Eastern Sierra. Nauman shares how her studies and work outside the bike industry contributed to her success as a first-time race promoter.
I’m an over-educated cyclist and an underqualified gravel event promoter.
I graduated in 2012 with a master’s degree in Systems Engineering (SE) from Stevens Institute of Technology and was part of a two-year project with the SE Research Center where we worked on a multi-disciplinary project for the Department of Defense. While the objective of the project was to conceive and execute a complex defense system with students from multiple different backgrounds, the ultimate goal was to refine the curriculum for large systems engineering projects in educational settings. I took a step outside the DoD project and analyzed the effectiveness of the framework and organization from an educational perspective for the stakeholders.
It's been ten years since I submitted that thesis, and it's relevant to cycling and gravel specifically because I recently promoted and executed the first edition of a gravel event, Mammoth TUFF. A gravel event is a complex system in its own way, but it’s certainly a much different complex system than I ever thought I’d be working on when I graduated a decade ago. In the interim, I've worked as a project manager in the bike industry, raced my bike all over the world, and am a quality manager for a testing company in the aviation industry.
So why put on an event?
Someone recently asked me this and it made me think about my educational background coupled with my expertise in the bike industry realm. The theme of education continues with the addition of my co-promoter and partner, Dave Sheek, and his talent as a teacher and coach.
We always saw Mammoth TUFF as a gateway event to adventure in the Eastern Sierra and we wanted it to be a learning experience of sorts as well. Some may learn a thing or two about how to tackle a gravel event, while others will simply learn more about themselves through a challenging endeavor.
The entirety of my thesis was about ensuring that students would finish their senior design projects and walk away with an understanding of the SE design approach in a way that would prepare them for similar jobs in the working world. My goal with Mammoth TUFF was to ensure that riders would complete a challenge and walk away with an understanding of their own capabilities and how to translate that to other endurance events.
I guess Dave and I have always had the desire to help people learn, and Mammoth TUFF became another creative outlet for us to do this. Coaching, guiding, and riding camps are all a part of the TUFF, and we have enjoyed expanding our avenues to help people. We thrive on it, as it keeps reminding us that these events, bikes, and adventures are more than just a race.
It is said that a good systems engineer is expected to be strong not only in the technical/functional area of their expertise but should have various other skills such as the ability to see the “big-picture,” the ability to work with multiple functional groups, and have good interpersonal skills. I wish all the numbers and math I learned had translated to more watts on racecourses, but I’ll happily apply it where I can now.
While I may not have found myself in an SE leadership role at a company like Boeing as I had envisioned a decade ago, I've found joy in applying these skills to a different path in life. This road just happens to be a little less traveled, a lot dustier, and filled with great people who love to Explore Beyond, as Shimano reminds us. It’s helped me teach people to Explore Your TUFF.
Gravel cycling as a discipline embodies the spirit of adventure and I embraced the unknown of creating an event with Dave as one of our greatest adventures of the past decade. It’s been equally the most rewarding and challenging endeavor, but we look forward to refining and growing it for years to come.
Putting on the first edition came with its own unique trials, like a global pandemic, forest fires, and learning the business from scratch. But the Eastern Sierra is a beautiful place, and just as it inspired and motivated us to tackle the challenges, we hope it inspires you to explore your own version of TUFF.