ESI Grips head of media, marketing and sponsorships shares how family, and organizations like Trips for Kids, can influence the future of the cycling industry
by Sarah Packard, Trips for Kids Chief Storyteller
Anastasia Ulibarri has been involved with Trips for Kids sponsor ESI Grips, the original silicone grips producer, since she was 10 years old. The daughter of founders Gary and Maria Stewart, Anastasia says the family business is her passion...but that wasn’t always the case.
“I was really shy when my parents started their business,” Anastasia remembers with a laugh. “They didn’t have a logo, a website or anything…just a canopy at races…and I remember being really concerned about the early feedback they got: ‘These will never work.’ “These are pool noodles.’ ‘These look terrible.’ My parents would put a blanket down, and I’d curl up under the table where they worked and just go to sleep.” But as time went on, Anastasia, and even those early doubters, realized that ESI Grips was here to stay. Moreover, it has solidified itself as the premier producer of silicone grips and as a favorite amongst racing champions around the world.
In fact, it’s hard to believe that the idea of silicone grips came to Gary almost by accident. An aerospace engineer, innovator, and newfound mountain bike racer (he traded motorcycle racing for cycling after having kids), Gary initially came up with the idea of a steering stabilizer to help with speed and cornering stability and they named their business Extreme Steering Inc. While prototyping and designing the stabilizer (and going for test ride after test ride), his hands began to hurt…and he installed some silicone foam from his machine shop on the bar. Fellow cyclists began to show more interest in the new soft grips and not the stabilizer, so he realized there was a need in the industry for a more comfortable grip. Thus the idea to create lightweight, shock absorbing grips was born. As Gary and Maria launched their business, now as E.S.I. Grips, word spread amongst the racing community quickly.
As ESI Grips grew, Anastasia grew up too, and after her husband’s military service ended in 2011 she decided to join the family business. She started out making packaging, and her responsibilities grew to include working in the shop to manufacturing to supervising the shop. Now overseeing media, marketing and sponsorships, Anastasia has found herself back under the canopy at races, this time with her own children. Only now she’s running the table, not hiding beneath it. The Trips for Kids Partnership Anastasia says Trips for Kids is one of ESI Grip’s most meaningful organizations to support and has been since the partnership began in 2008. “My parents weren’t wealthy, but they raised four kids with a deep love for cycling…from digging in the backyard and building jumps to passing down bikes from family member to family member,” Anastasia shares. “Trips for Kids was a first-of -its-kind organization focused solely on kids, and that meant something to them personally.” As a parent herself now, Anastasia feels that same connection to the organization, and says it’s hard to understand the full impact of Trips for Kids programming until you see it firsthand.
What’s more, she believes Trips for Kids programming is helping to level the playing field and promote more diversity in cycling -- a shift she says, that is badly needed.
“Trips for Kids programming gives kids the opportunity to experience something they might otherwise never have access to,” she says. “From the Earn-a-Bike program to group rides to the relationships they build along the way…these experiences are building confidence, promoting healthy lifestyles and shaping who these kids grow up to be. And that, in turn, is shaping the future of the cycling community.”
Anastasia says one of the most rewarding parts of her job is supporting organizations that support other people. That, and working with family -- her parents, as well as members of the cycling community that share the same values.
“My parents and I feel so blessed that we’ve had so many supporters and that we can support them in return,” she explains. “We believe in the Trips for Kids mission and in the impact they make every day…and we’re so grateful to have them as part of our extended family.”