Rags to Races
One UVU alumnus creates a lasting legacy of fun and fitness
By Kaitlyn Tolman
UVU Magazine, Fall 2013
With his intense blue eyes, long dreadlocks, youthful attitude and athletic build, Matt Ward '00 does not necessarily look the part of the successful businessman that he is, with dozens of business meetings around the country each month. He does, however, look the part of the extreme athlete that he is: cycling, swimming, surfing and long-distance running aren't just pastimes for Ward. They are his passion — and the inspiration for his success.
The Starting Line
Five years ago, Ward had hit rock bottom: he and his family were living in the small basement apartment of the house they used to own, essentially bankrupt after the abrupt end to his successful career in real estate. When both of his cars were repossessed, Ward knew he had two choices. He could continue to let money be his focus, or he could follow the advice of mentors that he had previously believed foolish: Do what you love and the money will follow.
"I had nothing to lose, so I decided to find a way to make money doing what I love," Ward says. "Now I understand what my mentors were talking about — and I'm a super-believer."
Drawing on his lifelong enthusiasm for running, Ward began creating a racing empire within Utah, already well known for its tight knit running community. In the five years since he decided to live his passion full time, Ward has cofounded three of the state's most popular and successful races: RedRock Relay, the Dirty Dash and Color Me Rad.
Ward credits his education at Utah Valley University for showing him where dedication could take him. While working toward his associate degree, Ward was inspired by the passion he saw in his professors.
"I remember sitting in class, and my professors were just oozing with passion about what they were teaching and doing," he recalls. "I felt that for the first time in the learning environment at UVU."
Ward took that inspiration and ran with it — literally. In 2009, he and several business partners launched the RedRock Relay, which takes teams of six or 12 across 60 to 180 miles of the most beautiful and challenging terrain in Utah and is now recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the top five relay races to travel for.
The year after starting the relay, Ward decided to expand his running repertoire with a new set of business partners and a new kind of race: The Dirty Dash, a mud run obstacle course that attracts a very different crowd than the relay — the mud-slinging, belly-crawling, wall-climbing kind of crowd. Since its launch in Utah County in 2010, the Dirty Dash has found a dedicated following throughout the western United States.
Ward's latest endeavor, Color Me Rad — a 5k during which participants are bombarded with colored cornstarch as they run — had its auspicious debut at UVU just over a year ago. That first year, Color Me Rad's seven employees organized 36 races across the country. Now, Ward and his business partners, John Malfatto and Scott Crandall, manage 80 employees and almost 100 races. Between the Dirty Dash and Color Me Rad, Ward anticipates that more than 1 million racers will run one of his races this year.
Unlike the RedRock Relay, these two races allow participants to let loose: the races are untimed, no medals are handed out and costumes are encouraged. Many of those 1 million racers will experience a runner's high for the first time in a no-pressure environment that offers no glory for the first person to cross the finish line and no shame for the last.
"The Dirty Dash and Color Me Rad are extensions of my personality and my partners' personalities," Ward says, after describing himself as a goofy guy who hates only the word hate. "We want to give people permission to be ridiculous and smile their faces off."
Going the Distance
Ward is self-deprecating in a charming way that is not often seen in the world today. He is quick to credit his parents, employees and business partners for his success.
"Every day I'm in awe of our employees and how far above and beyond they go," he says, adding that one of the most important things he does as a business owner is recognize and appreciate his employees. "I'm successful because I have great partners and amazing employees. My business partners were able to make this organization a success somehow despite me."
Talk to anyone who has worked with Ward, though, and you'll hear a slightly different story: every description of Ward includes some combination of hardworking, enthusiastic, kind and energetic.
"The thing about Matt is that he works really hard," says Gretchen Willard, a Color Me Rad employee. "He wants to bring a fun atmosphere everywhere we go. And that's something he is able to do because he can work hard and he can play hard."
Ward radiates an infectious kind of passion and energy, which translates into a passionate and energetic business model. No one at Color Me Rad has an office — all of the employees sit together in one room to facilitate easy communication and camaraderie — and when asked what his official title is, Ward isn't even sure how to reply.
"I call myself the head janitor," he says, "but I guess, officially, I'm a partner and the marketing director."
Why head janitor? "Because I'll do whatever needs to be done, whether it's take out the garbage, unload boxes or come up with a new marketing strategy."
The Finish Line
Because Ward remembers what it was like to be on the bottom, and because he was able
to attend college due to scholarships he worked hard for, generosity is another pillar
of the Ward business model.
Since Color Me Rad launched, the organization has already raised more than $1 million for their local charity partners, including $30,000 in scholarships for UVU.
"This is something near and dear to my heart," Ward says. "I'm thrilled to be in a position to give back."