All Lewis Kent ever really wanted was some free gear. In early 2015, Kent was the proud owner of a few sub-five-minute beer miles—times that put him among the best in the world. He reached out to shoe companies to see if someone would throw him some free kicks. No one called back and by August 2015, he’d given up.
And then, the following month, a mutual friend suggested he reach out to Kris Mychasiw, a Montreal-based agent who mostly works with track athletes, like steeplechase Olympian Genevieve Lalond and 1500-meter Olympian Charles Philibert-Thiboutot. Within a few weeks, Kent was meeting with Brooks Canada and signing on the dotted line. Not long after that he got a spot on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Today, he’s a pro beer-miler, with the shoe deal and a contract with a hydration company to prove it. Brooks even designed him a custom beer mile racing flat, complete with a maple leaf design and skid resistance for beer-soaked tracks.
Mychasiw may just be sports marketing’s cleverest agent. He’s managed to make two athletes pro—in an event that doesn't even have an official governing body. This weekend, the two athletes he represents, Lewis Kent and Corey Bellemore, will face off at the FloTrack Beer Mile World Championships in Austin, Texas. They've both held the world record for the beer mile (Corey currently holds the record) and they are the sport's only sponsored athletes. On the line will be cash and a sizeable amount of media attention, almost all of which Mychasiw is responsible for generating.
If you’d told us a decade ago that runners would be making a living off chugging four beers and running four laps around a track, we’d have laughed at you, then tried to figure out how to get in on the scam. The idea seemed as preposterous as a gymnast getting a contract after sticking the landing on a kegstand. But it wasn't preposterous to Mychasiw. Right before Kent and Mychasiw connected, Mychasiw had gotten a pint glass in the mail. It was a promo item from shoe company Brooks. The combo made him pause. When so much of shoe marketing is about being lighter, swifter, and better, this beer glass was zagging into new, chiller territory. “When a friend said, ‘Hey, you have to talk to this beer-mile kid,’ I was like, huh, I might know the right company for this,” he says.
Mychasiw wasn’t sure how much he could do for Kent, but the more he thought about the idea of a professional beer miler, the more he saw its promise. The future of track and field is bleak, he says. “The viewers are getting older, and with more and more doping scandals, more and more people may start to pull out. So what’s after track?”
Probably not beer miles. But Mychasiw does think that track fans need a fun distraction. “And the mass media just loves it.” (Guilty as charged.) He sees beer miles as breathing some life and fun back into track. “And yeah, you may not be the best on the track, but this is something anyone can do,” he says.
He thinks companies will see marketing potential with that young, new scene. At first, Kent struggled to believe all the things Mychasiw promised—a major shoe company deal or coverage on mainstream sites like TMZ and ESPN. “Let's just say that now when Kris tells me something is happening, I never doubt it is going to get done,” Kent says. The sponsorship deals legitimized Kent and elevated the beer mile from its origins as the track nerd’s vomitous fun run. The media attention helped, too. Getting Kent booked on Ellen was mind-bending for many in the industry. "The only track athlete that I recall being on that show was Usain Bolt," says Mychasiw.
The majority of Mychasiw’s income still comes from representing regular track and field athletes and Kent runs a window-washing business on the side. Pro drinking and running pays but not much—yet. Mychasiw and Corey Bellemore just inked a deal with Adidas, in which the company agreed to outfit him for 2017 (Adidas noted that it's not an official partnership or endorsement deal, and Mychasiw can't share all the details of the deal, but says that it's fair to qualify Bellemore as a pro based on the terms).
While it’s cool to finally get free shoes, what Kent likes best about working with Mychasiw isn’t the money or the swag. It’s the legitimacy that Mychasiw has lent to the sport. “What I like to say is the beer mile had a little spark and Kris poured gasoline on the fire. Without him, I don't think the sport would be where it is today.”