After a successful motocross career, winning nine AMA Supercross and Pro Motocross Championships, Ryan Dungey is riding with purpose. Dungey founded the Ryan Dungey Foundation that connects his love of motocross and biking with supporting the health and wellbeing of children. So, instead of racing, Dungey spends his time giving back to the community and supporting causes that are near to his heart, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and All Kids Bike.
ABILITY’s Chet Cooper spoke with Dungey and Lauren Kennedy, Executive Director of the Ryan Dungey Foundation, at their annual motocross community event and fundraiser in Southern California, Opportunity Awaits. Dungey spoke about his motivations and the affect his growing foundation has on the lives of children. He also shares the impact motocross has had in his life. Kennedy shares her experience with the foundation and details the great work All Kids Bike, including its newly launched adaptability program.
Chet Cooper: Lauren, how long have you been working with the Foundation?
Lauren Kennedy: Since its inception in 2021. We launched in June of 2021, when we kicked off. I helped Ryan to start it up.
Cooper: That’s based on your background or friendship?
Kennedy: I met Ryan through St. Jude. I’ve been a long-time volunteer of St. Jude. I used to run events in the Twin Cities, and Ryan had an event there following Millville benefit cycling event. St. Jude asked me to help out at his event. We did that for a couple of years, and then just wanted to continue to do more. Ryan and I really worked well together.
Cooper: That’s not what he says!
Kennedy: Oh, shoot! (laughter) We think we work well together. I saw an opportunity to continue to engage the moto community. I wanted to bring more people around the power of platform, and there’s so much social media today. How do we get kids and the next generation to help the next?
Cooper: Did you have any background in motorcycles?
Kennedy: I didn’t. I actually knew nothing about motorcycles.
Cooper: Let me try this: there’s two wheels. (laughter)
Kennedy: I know, and sometimes there’s a throttle and there’s some brakes. My introduction to this world of motorcycles and moto and supercross has been through Ryan. I met Ryan in the last year of his racing career, that’s when I took over his event. I’ve become a fan and learned a lot. I couldn’t be learning from a better mentor at all.
Cooper: Oh, absolutely. Plus, he’s a nice guy!
Kennedy: Nice guy, yeah. I enjoyed the unique focus and a large part of what we do with the All Kids Bike program, which is our ability to put Learn to Ride programs in elementary schools is all centered around the love of two wheels. I like to bike, I do more trail recreational riding, but I can specifically remember learning to ride a two-wheel. The first time we took off the training wheels, I remember screaming down the big hill next to my house growing up. I think regardless of whether you know about moto or not, there’s a connection in this community. It’s a family sport. While it’s individual, it’s family. That’s what I’ve loved the most about getting to know this community and engaging more people.
Cooper: How do you choose where to put the monies when you raise them?
Kennedy: We, right from the get-go, decided that there are two organizations that were really important to Ryan and his legacy. The first is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital out of Memphis, Tennessee, and Ryan can share his story, but this is an organization that Ryan has been giving back to since he was young. The other is All Kids Bike, which was founded by the gentleman who created the Strider bike. He started a foundation, All Kids Bike, that supports Learn to Ride programs in elementary school. When we fund an elementary school, the school will get an eight-week program, eight weeks of curriculum for the teachers. They get 24 kids bikes that are all balanced to pedal, helmets, and a teacher bike.
Cooper: Tell us about the Strider.
Kennedy: It’s a small 12-inch wheel bike. The kids will start with just walking, learning to balance. And then as they progress, they have the ability to add pedals and a chain. The goal is that in eight weeks of that program, they’ll go from walking with the bike to pedaling. And even better is, the life cycle of a program is over a thousand kids.
Cooper: You say life cycle, you mean bicycle?
Kennedy: Yeah, you’re good! (laughter) The bicycles with stay in the school for years, and it’ll serve over a thousand kids.
Cooper: So, sort of in perpetuity, and the program hopefully stays?
Cooper: Even if they have to get some new equipment?
Kennedy: Some new bikes, yeah. And they get a storage unit. The goal is giving kids who might not have had the opportunity to learn how to ride a bike to learn how to ride a bike.
Cooper: In that program, is there any ability for that community to provide bikes for the kids after the fact? You’re teaching them to ride for the fun of it, and then they go home and they don’t have one.
Kennedy: Not yet. I imagine a day—
Cooper: That’s why I’m here, to push that. (laughs)
Kennedy: Yeah, I love that! Actually, All Kids Bike did just launch a new program in the last few weeks, an adaptability program for those with mobility issues. They’ve found that it’s a great therapy tool. They have a new program they’re launching throughout the U.S. to support those who might need it through therapy or adaptability. It’s pretty neat that they continue to expand.
When we bring people together for this event, we call it “Opportunity Awaits, a Ride Day for Everyone.” And we are centralized on a ride day for everyone. We want people to come out here and maybe try two wheels for the first time. We hope some day that the kid who learns how to ride a bike in an elementary school shows up at one of our Ride Days or maybe is the next Ryan Dungey on the supercross track. What’s neat is leaving here today, all the entry fees and donations raised will support both St. Jude as well as the All Kids Bike program. So, the legacy of everyone riding continues.
Ryan Dungey: All right, guys, Opportunity Awaits here at Fox Raceway was a complete success, an epic day for sure. The tracks were awesome, both the vet track and the big track. We had the 50 track.
They were packed full of riders. I think we had close to 270 riders, which was amazing, biggest one yet. I can’t thank everybody enough for coming out and enjoying the day. We had a lot of fun, obviously raised good money for the foundation. It will be put to some good causes with St. Jude and All Kids Bike. Man, I love it! I look forward to this event the most out of any of them. I can’t wait for next year already. It’ll be fun!
Cooper: What made you decide to start the Foundation?
Dungey: The root of it was I lost my grandmother to cancer when I was 15, back in 2005. I guess from that point forward, I always wanted to do something to give back. At the time I was big into Lance Armstrong, obviously, he, having cancer and starting his foundation, as a young kid looking up to role models and how they’re using their platform for the greater good. Obviously, I didn’t have cancer, but I lost my grandmother to cancer, and it affected my life, wanting to start a foundation one day.
It took some years. Obviously, I was able to turn pro. We had a cycling event in Minnesota that we put on, where we raised money one day out of the year. We raised good money, and that money went to St. Jude. That became one of St. Jude’s main events in Minnesota. COVID stopped a lot of things. It reshuffled a lot of things. They had to shut a lot of the events down, ours being one of them. That opened up the idea of “You always wanted to start a foundation. We can raise money in multiple different ways. We can still support St. Jude and have other beneficiaries.”
Dungey: So, we started the foundation two years ago, with St. Jude as a beneficiary. And I wanted to do one more specifically because of my background with racing and two wheels and dirt bikes. And what’s cooler than to support an organization that would get kids on two wheels or introduce little kids to two wheels? For me, people invested in me. How can we do that for these younger kids, the next generation?
That’s when I started looking around. I didn’t know who we were going to support. It was funny. I got an email from the All Kids Bike organization, and they said, “Hey, we’d love you to be an ambassador.” I thought, this is interesting. Instead of being an ambassador, why don’t we raise money through the foundation and put these programs in these schools that they do. They do all the heavy lifting, cull out the right schools, tier one schools, low-income, poverty.
Cooper: Boots on the ground?
Cooper: Oh, no, wheels on the ground.
Dungey: (laughs) Yeah, yeah! Long story short, long story long, (laughs) we started the foundation and St. Jude and All Kids were our beneficiaries. And two years ago today, we had our first event, Opportunity Awaits. And that kicked off the beginning for us. Now we have multiple other events, but this was kind of our main one, our cornerstone. It’s pretty cool.
Cooper: Are you always going to do this event at Fox Pala Raceway?
Dungey: When we were looking for founding partners, a lot of the partners that I raced with, KTM, Oakley, Fox. They were the first ones we talked to about what we were doing. Since 2009, I’ve been with Fox, and Fox, basically, runs and operates this land, and it’s their track. As Fox came on as a partner to support us, they opened up the door. We said, “Could we have a riding event at Fox Raceway?” They said, “Absolutely. We’ll pull out all the stops. We’ll make sure that the track’s ready, and, basically, donate everything,” which is super-generous. It would have been a huge cost if we had to pay for that. So, it was a no-brainer to do it here, being that Fox was our partner in the foundation. They run and operate this track here.
Cooper: You said, “The way people supported me when I was growing into the sport.” Can you explain what that meant? How did you get to the legend you are today?
Dungey: My parents, for sure. My parents got me a bicycle. My dad rode dirt bikes growing up. So, when I could balance, I was ready for my first dirt bike; me and my brother got a dirt bike that we shared. It’s just where it all led to, the freedom, the excitement, the opportunities, going to the local races, riding dirt bikes. I thought dirt bikes were so unique. I get to push how fast I want to go. It’s me and the throttle, and I just thought it was so cool. Not a lot of people did it. The excitement and the freedom that it brought.
Dungey: I thought, man, with video games these days, they need something to get them out of the house. We want to be the ones to provide that opportunity by putting these two-wheel programs in schools and introducing these kids, giving them that chance, that opportunity to explore that. It’s a moment that they’ll—I shouldn’t say it’s a moment because it’s in the school, and they can experience it every day that they go to school in the PE class. They’ll have the chance to understand it and get introduced to it, and who knows? Maybe biking down the road, getting them out of the house, maybe the freedom that it brought me, it’ll bring them. Maybe they’ll want to be a dirt bike rider. Maybe they’ll want to do street bike racing. The possibilities are endless, and it’s healthy. That’s our mission for the foundation, to create opportunity for kids and help them live healthy and active lifestyles. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
Cooper: It’s interesting that you’ve used the word “freedom” a few times now, and when people ask me why I ride, I use the word “freedom.” It was something growing up as a kid, I used to ride with my friends in the woods. We were just out there having fun! And as you know, you’re getting better and better. I intended to race motocross, that’s why I came to California, and then I broke my arm, and that changed things. My brain changed! (laughs) Do you know Ashley Fiolek?
Dungey: Oh, yeah!
Cooper: She’s been writing for us for about a decade now. She writes a column for the magazine.
Dungey: I didn’t know that.
Cooper: There’s a picture of her and me and we’re both in the air. Of course, she looks good, and I’m like what they call the dead sailor, whatever that is.
Dungey: Like you’ve haven’t been riding in a while?
Cooper: I saw you out there on the track, and it was so cool how you were mentoring some of these little kids. Think about what they just went through. They get to say they rode with you on a track. That’s going to change their lives.
When I was learning through the process,—The number of kids who will never get introduced to a bicycle is staggering. It’s well over 50%, which is crazy to think, right?
Dungey: A hundred percent. I want to make sure I’m using my platform for the greater good and help the Foundation and help these kids. Maybe there’s an experience I’ve been through where I can help a young kid coming up as well. Always being ready and willing to help in those areas.
Cooper: What are the other things you do? Do you coach, teach classes?
Dungey: No, I don’t coach or teach classes. I’m still very much with KTM, the team I race for, whether it’s representing the brand or helping the amateurs or the pros. Whether it be a phone call, a question, it could be at the track, just a moment that I can help them. It’s not full-time. I think there were always little nuggets that, as I was coming up, where I would ask the guys who were better than me, who were pros, and almost done with their career, and I was just coming in. How do you do this? What do you do for training, for riding? How can I recover better? Just little bits of advice.
Cooper: You’re still training, right?
Dungey: I work out.
Cooper: I don’t know if you had that tailored, that thing you were wearing earlier, but you looked really in shape. I’ve never seen one that was so nice and tight. (laughs) Is it tailored?
Dungey: A little too tight! (laughter) The gear is more slim-fitted these days.
Cooper: Your exercise routine is pretty much the same as before except maybe less intense before a race?
Dungey: Yeah. I work out, but the volume, the amount I do is much less and the intensity is a little less. In this day and age, it’s just staying healthy and active and not so much trying to stay in the fittest shape I need to be because I don’t have to go racing any more. When you’re in racing season, you’re pushing yourself all the time to the point where you’ve got to take naps every day. You’re recovering. If you’re not riding and training, you’re resting and vice versa. It’s a very routine career. You try to have fun and keep a balance. But you know how it is, when you put in a hard workout, you don’t really want to go golfing. You just want to recover and relax. That makes the body stronger, all this stuff.
Cooper: What other things do you do? Do you golf, is that why you mentioned it?
Dungey: I like to golf. I’ve been flying a little bit, trying that out, which has been fun.
Cooper: Flying? You’re getting your pilot’s license?
Dungey: Yeah, I’m working on that.
Cooper: How about surfing? Where do you live?
Cooper: OK, so probably not much surfing.
Dungey: No. Wake surfing, behind those boats.
Cooper: (laughs) Have you ever thought of partnering with other nonprofits?
Dungey: Yeah, of course. We’ve had multiple discussions with other foundations. A lot of times it’s, “How can we do things better?” They’re doing something, how can we apply that to ours, that they’ve already been successful in? We haven’t done any partnerships necessarily, but how can we open—We’re not against a partnership, but how can we do it and be effective with a bigger impact? We’re only two years into this. It’s early and it’s young. We’re always looking for opportunity, for sure.
Cooper: How do you deal with the stress of all of that? Mental health issues? And doing it year after year, how do you mentally prepare?
Dungey: It’s a very mentally grueling sport, for sure. Physically it’s tough. Mentally, when you’re competing and you expect a lot of yourself and people are expecting a lot of you, the demons are telling you you’re not good enough. You’ve got to block that out and believe in yourself and trust it and have faith. You’re constantly trying to reassure yourself that you can do it, believe in yourself. Every week, back-to-back to back-to-back, it starts to add up and your body will quit way before your mind will.
Cooper: Hopefully. Because if the mind quits earlier, your body might be okay, but you have these mental blocks.
Dungey: There is that, too. There are fears. You don’t want to think about it. You try to focus on what you want to happen, not what you don’t want to happen. It’s safer to ride a track being in the moment with instinct and having fun than riding a track in fear. You’re kind of attracting that. You’re like, “I hope I don’t crash,” and you’re probably going to crash, You’re not fully a hundred percent focused. There’s that. But it gets tiring. The championship, you’re trying to race 17 races in a row and be consistent and be there every single day. You can’t afford a hiccup. That starts to build.
Cooper: So, how did you get on the Wheaties box?
Dungey: There was a deal where Wheaties picked five athletes, us being one of them. It was a whole voting thing. Social media was just coming in at that time and people had to vote, and whoever had the most votes got on the box. Well, we lost that. A couple of years later, Mark Irvin, my manager at the time, reached out and said, “Hey, let’s make this happen. Are you guys open?” They were like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” It was a mix of a little bit of both. So that’s how it started.
Cooper: Do kids know that you’re on a Wheaties box? Were they too young when it happened? (laughs)
Dungey: Nowadays, it’s been so long that a lot of the kids who are six, seven, and eight who are riding, they were infants when I was racing during that time. It’s probably more your teenagers now.
Cooper: Lauren, did you know it?
Kennedy: I didn’t know him at the time he was on the Wheaties box.
Cooper: But you knew who he was?
Kennedy: I did after, yeah.
Cooper: Did you know he was on the Wheaties box?
Kennedy: He told me that the second time I met him. (laughs)
Dungey: Oh, no, that can’t be right!