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Interview: Phil Southerland, Team Novo Nordisk

The man behind the world's first all-diabetes cycling team
Phil Southerland Team Novo Nordisk

Phil Southerland, Team Novo Nordisk

At the Communiqué Awards 2013, Pegasus PR won the Ogilvy Healthworld Award for Excellence in Corporate Communications for its work to help launch Team Novo Nordisk – a professional cycling team where every racer has type 1 diabetes. PMLiVE spoke to Team Novo Nordisk's co-founder and CEO Phil Southerland to find out more about the team's journey.

Can you briefly explain what Team Novo Nordisk is?
Team Novo Nordisk is the world's first all-diabetes pro cycling team. Our purpose is to educate, empower and inspire people to take control of their diabetes to pursue their dreams. We're trying to give kids around the world some hope and inspiration to pursue a career in professional cycling and provide a hero for people with diabetes.

What was the motivation to create an all-diabetes cycling team?
I've had diabetes since I was seven months old. I had a dream to go to the Tour de France but there was no precedent for anyone with type 1 diabetes to do it; nobody I could look up to as a kid and say I want to be like them.

In college I met a friend and I inspired him to take control of his diabetes through racing. I thought the bike was a good platform to help other people take control, so I started the Team Type 1 racing team.

Later, I sat down with Jakob Riis [executive VP global marketing at Danish pharma company Novo Nordisk] who said he would be delighted to sponsor us, contingent on the team being all type 1. My long-term goal had always been to put an all type 1 team in the Tour de France. Then here came the perfect partner who had no other objective than to see that goal through. Novo is really the dream company for anyone in diabetes to partner with because of its extreme focus on the condition.

A slideshow featuring photos of Team Novo Nordisk

What has been the response from the diabetes community to Team Novo Nordisk?
It hit home at the American Diabetes Association conference this year, where I had a number of colleagues who said how much it meant to them how we were all type 1. It was proof that anything is possible even if you have diabetes. I've also met parents of children with type 1 diabetes who have been living a life of complete fear for their kids. This team stands for the hope of everyone who doesn't live in fear of diabetes if you take control.

How has the cycling community responded?
It was a rocky start because most people asked “are you kidding me?” And a lot of cyclists at the beginning of the year didn't look so fondly on our riders because cycling is a sport where you have to fight, kick, scream and sacrifice to get to pro level. And here were guys who, because they had diabetes, some saw as having received a fast track to that point.

That was the first race. But by April the guys had earned their spot in the peloton. They weren't here because they had diabetes; they were here because they were great athletes.

This is the best thing for the sport right now – the positive visibility and having a sponsor like Novo using the sport as a platform to make a difference all round. The boys really helped me to get that reception because they did an amazing job this year.

How has the support been from Novo and Pegasus?
The big thing is that Novo has such a huge focus on the team. It has full-time employees in Denmark and the US whose sole responsibility is Team Novo Nordisk. And they are working with an agency like Pegasus to help them to develop the core goals – to educate, empower and inspire.

Our athletes have also had access to tools and opportunities to execute those goals, and the message is being heard around the world. Novo and Pegasus are helping to make sure that people with diabetes are aware of what we're doing. It's been a dream partnership.

How does the future look for Team Novo Nordisk?
The Tour de France is the pinnacle of our sport and to goal is to have a team enter by 2021. But in-between there are other races, like the Tour of Great Britain and the Tour of Beijing. There's also the Tour d'Italie, which is a more difficult mountain race that will help us reach that final goal.

If there is a young kid who races or wants to race a bike, please contact us. We'd love to give you a chance to reach that dream.

Article by
Thomas Meek

21st February 2014

From: Marketing, Healthcare



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