Since their invention in 1817, bicycles have been used for traveling across the street, to the store, going to school, and even going to work. Today, riders for Mamma Jamma support breast cancer awareness, research, and the breast cancer survivors themselves through cycling. Shawn Michael O'Keefe utilizes his hobby of cycling as a means to support his friends and family who were impacted by breast cancer.
Tell us about yourself.
Growing up in Dallas, Texas, I moved to Austin as soon as I could — attending the University of Texas in the early 90s. I first started racing road bikes around that time, spending a decent chunk of one semester’s student financial aid on my very first race bike, a red Specialized Allez Comp with full Ultegra components. Fortunately for my academic education, bikes were much less expensive back then.
I’ve spent most of my career in emerging technologies and event production, helping to grow the SXSW Interactive Festival into what it is today. I co-founded a health technology company in 2014, and then spent three amazing years living and working (and bikepacking) overseas in Wellington, New Zealand. I now run innovation programs, such as startup accelerators, for an array of companies and government organizations. I'm currently helping the Army Futures Command with its innovation efforts as part of the Army Applications Laboratory here in Austin.
I have two kiddos, an almost 10-year old son and a 7-year old daughter, and we spend a lot of time climbing at the Austin Bouldering Project, going out for sushi and/or launching model rockets.
Why do you ride?
On a personal level, I ride to feel like a kid again. No other activity offers such a wide array of physical, mental and emotional benefits. And with my hectic schedule and questionable work-life balance, it’s something I can do when I have a few hours to myself — or with a group when I’m feeling social.
As a “roadie,” I’ve participated in a number of charity rides throughout the years, such as the MS 150 from Houston to Austin. A number of close friends and family members have been impacted by breast cancer, so I want to do what I can to help. There’s a lot of donor fatigue with so many causes and issues to address in our world, but it’s important to let those fighting and surviving breast cancer know that they are not alone in their battle. Plus, cycling is an expensive sport — and it’s a good thing to put our fancy bikes to work for a great cause.
The Martindale community is a very special one. I’m also very appreciative that the beneficiaries are such fantastic local organizations, as it’s wonderful to help create impact and change in our own communities. The beauty of the surrounding country roads ain’t bad either.
How do you prepare for the ride?
With two children, it can be difficult to get a lot of quality time on the bike. I train outdoors as much as possible, which in reality averages out to about two times per week. Once a month, I try to get out of town for a proper long-distance adventure or gran fondo. I mostly focus on “gravel grinding” and endurance events these days.
Before, during, and after my ride, I have good coffee. I usually end up on a bit of a coffee shop tour, actually. My favorite spots in Austin include Houndstooth, Juan Pelota at Mellow Johnny’s, and Flat Track Coffee at Cycleast.
What is one thing you'd say about Mamma Jamma to convince a friend or family member to join you in the ride?
Perhaps quote the character Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) from the film, The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” A lot of my friends and family members are intimidated by riding longer distances on a bicycle, but it’s really just a mental barrier. They’d be surprised how easy and fun it is to participate in the Mamma Jamma. Not only do you get to make a direct impact in the lives of those battling and surviving cancer, you get to feel like a kid again. And that counts for a lot these days.
By Christian Mariano, Communications Intern