Life Time Fitness is forging ahead with more changes to the Dirty Kanza after the exit of the race's founder last week.
Jim Cummins, who founded the race in 2006 along with fellow cycling enthusiast Joel Dyke, and Life Time, who purchased the race in 2018, came to a "mutual agreement" to part ways June 20 after Cummins received some backlash for a post he made on his personal Facebook page, June 19.
The post asked his followers to watch a video in which two police officers attempt to apprehend Daniel Clary, a Black man who shot an officer during a 2018 arrest in Pennsylvania. Clary was later convicted and sentenced to 110 years in prison. The officer survived.
Cummins was comparing the incident to the death of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man from Atlanta, who was killed June 12 after he fell asleep inside his car outside a Wendy’s restaurant. Brooks was reportedly inebriated, took a taser from one of the officers and fired the taser twice in their direction. He did not make contact and was shot in the back while running away. His death was ruled a homicide.
Cummins released a statement to Road Bike Action Magazine on Sunday citing his support of strong and diverse communities, and his regret for how his words were received.
"There's been a lot of turmoil over the fact that Jim's not here anymore," Operations Manager LeLan Dains told The Emporia Gazette. "Jim has always been concerned with what's best for Dirty Kanza, and he genuinely felt what was best for Dirty Kanza was to move forward without him. He felt he had caused too much controversy and chaos."
And, as the race moves forward without its founder, new discussions regarding its name have surfaced.
A new name
Dains said some concerns surrounding the name of the race had been brought to DK leadership years before Life Time's acquisition of the event. The concerns brought some surprising news to the team — that the name "Dirty Kanza" could be construed as a racial slur against Native Americans meaning “dirty Indian." Although no ill-intent was meant when the race was named, Dains said attempts were made to reach out to the Kaw Nation at that time.
"From the get-go we did make attempts to speak with the Kaw Nation," he said. "For a couple of years, as things often play out, we simply weren't able to get a response and get an opportunity to sit down with representatives of the Kaw tribe. So, it kind of stayed as it was for a few years."
The conversations quieted until earlier this year. New voices brought new concerns about the name. Petitions were created and widely circulated. And this time, Dains said Cummins was able to meet with the chairwoman of the Kaw Nation.
"What was ultimately decided was, they appreciated the innocence from which the name came because there was absolutely no malintent when it was created," Dains said. "'Dirty' as we know was for the dirt roads and the fact that you get all that dust on you while riding. 'Kanza' comes from the area and the people we get our state name from. No one connected the dots that 'Dirty Kanza' could potentially or at one time was used as a derogatory slur."
In April, Life Time — with the backing of the Kaw Nation — announced the race would not change its name. But, behind the scenes, Dains said the internal conversation about the issue never stopped.
"While we came to the decision now, this has been an ongoing debate for a couple years," he said. "Not only on, 'Do we or do we not change the name?' but also, 'What do we change it to?' We already had a foot in that direction, but we didn't have a timeline as to when to make that happen, but the conversation has been open."
Dains estimated the rebranding process would take anywhere from 8 - 10 weeks, meaning Life Time may be ready to announce the name by September when — barring any major developments with the pandemic — the DK is set to return.
What will not change, Dains said, is Life Time's commitment to growing the event right here in Emporia, with a strong local team including Dains, Marketing Manager Kristi Mohn and Athlete Services Manager Treva Worrel still on-board.
"Changing the name does not change who we are, nor does it change our mission," Dains said. "Our mission is to provide life-enriching outdoor experiences to build community, locally, regionally and beyond. That will continue to happen. That mission will not change and that mission is who we are. This event will still be amazing. It will be amazing for the locals who live here, volunteer and participate in it, as well as the international audience and comes here and is wowed by the opportunity they have to ride when they come here. All of that was bigger than one single person. It's bigger than all of us. It will continue on."
For those who voiced concern that Cummins' exit and the coming name change were the first two indicators that the DK would be moved to another city in the coming years, Dains said he could only offer his word that this was not the case.
"Even when we are all gone, Life Time understands that this event is Emporia," Dains said. "There's no taking this event out of Emporia. There's no other place that has the geographic location or the people to make it as special as it is. The Dirty Kanza is Emporia."