There are two kinds of people in the world—those who stray far from the proverbial beaten path and those others who stay on it. Mountain biker Niki Gudex is in a way both kinds of people. Gudex has steered far off course from anything average, having paved a path all her own in her 28 years, placing in biking competitions and racking up accolades all over the world. But literally, she is the one beating the real paths down, grinding down the gravel on cross country and downhill biking adventures, putting her passion to the pedal, unafraid to get a little dirty along the way.

There is no doubt that the Australian biker excels at her sport—she is ranked number one and number two in the National Series for Cross Country and Downhill biking, respectively. But for Oakley, athletic ability is only half the battle. It’s largely the other half that has made Niki Gudex such a strong presence in the Oakley’s “Uniquely Oakley” women’s campaign and that is a blend of attitude, spirit, passion and drive. It is these characteristics that differentiate Gudex as more than a model, but a role model, radiating the very qualities that the Oakley brand most values. “Uniquely is how the Oakley woman approaches life,” states the press release. “She lives by her own rules, she is not about to wait for the world to define her.”

Upon seeing pictures of Gudex in Oakley frames, it’s easy to forget that there is more to it than just promoting a cool image because they look so fierce, so sporty on her. But aside from their stylishness, the shades are actually primarily functional, and more than that, they are a necessity, factoring into the performance equation like a gear in her bike. “Because mountain biking can be very bumpy and fast on a trail or a racetrack, I can’t afford to have my eyewear moving around accidentally or fogging up. It would be too dangerous. I love the way the Radar style sits on my face,” Gudex explains. And in a sport that relies on the great outdoors for its venue, there are nature’s elements to be contended with that could be quite distracting. “I ride and compete in a wide range of weather conditions,” says Gudex. “My Oakley eyewear protects my eyes from the mud, the sun, the wind, dirt, debris and even bugs flying through the air. I like the Transition lens because in race conditions I am constantly going in to the shade of trees and out again into bright sunlight. When the lens can adjust itself to the light it means I can see no matter what the sun does. For me, the ultimate eyewear is eyewear that I forget I’m wearing.”

Unique, like Gudex herself, is a good way to describe her partnership with Oakley, for it far transcends the perimeters of a traditional business relationship. A close bond has been cultivated over the seven years that Oakley has sponsored Gudex. “Before the shoot for the ‘Uniquely’ campaign in Costa Rica, I was asked about my childhood and I mentioned taking my horse swimming in the ocean as a child,” she explains. “Oakley organized parts of the trip so that I could recapture those memories for the shoot. It was really special. The photo shoot trips for Oakley have had a huge impact on my life.”

The collaboration doesn’t end at photo shoots. Her radiant face appears adorned with sports shades in the Oakley ads, but Niki Gudex is also involved at the other end of the Oakley product spectrum—the production process—which appeals to another side of Gudex, who received her bachelor’s degree in creative design. “I have worked closely with Oakley on a number of projects. They respect their athletes’ opinions because we are passionate about what we do and we’re out there using these products every single day. I have been in some retail and design meetings and they are always open to my feedback on eyewear and apparel. They have also been open and welcoming to my creative side. I painted an oversized backpack for an Oakley exhibition and painted a canvas for an Rx piece. I also designed a MySpace web site background for the Oakley women’s page.”

Gudex’s close involvement with Oakley has built a close rapport between her and the Oakley team, especially with sports marketing manager Steve Blick. “On my race bike at the moment I have some really rad bike grips that are almost 20 years old. They are originals from the batch of the first grips ever made by Oakley, which Blick found in the Oakley vault and gave me. Things like that go beyond a marketing relationship. There is a cool history behind Oakley and they let their athletes know they are a part of that history as it is continually being created,” says Gudex. “Because Blick has a history in mountain biking himself, he knows how tough it can be and has been incredibly supportive of me. We are friends and work together too. Our work is what we do every day of our lives so it’s great to be involved with people who understand it and work hard at what they do, too. Even at an event with athletes from other sports, we can all hang out and have a strong connection because of the way that Oakley runs.”

The spirit that has captivated Oakley and fans is a driving force during this critical time as Gudex makes her comeback in the face of several injuries. A true survivor, the athlete has remained focused and dedicated to her sport. “I will be racing internationally for the World Cup and NORBA (National Off- Road Bicycle Association) series and then in the Australian summer I race our national series here,” she says. “I train on the bike and if I am in Australia I try to get to the beach for a swim—the salt water is really good for my muscles and recovery. My racing goals are interrelated to the speed of my comeback.” Hardships withstanding, Gudex has her sights set on the pinnacle of athletic competition: the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. And if she is anywhere near as resilient as she is passionate, dedicated and strong, she will be there.& •


When it comes to mountain biking, Oakley sports marketing manager Steve Blick is no stranger to the sport. A former mountain biker himself, Blick is familiar with the obstacles that Niki Gudex faces and knows well that seeing clearly is crucial when she rides. “Niki’s favorite style is Radar, a performance piece that has a cool design and hydrophobic coating,” says Blick. “This kind of coating is nothing new to optical, but it’s an extremely important barrier from the elements so Niki can see what’s out there.”

While efficient performance eyewear is indeed a necessity in mountain biking, Blick makes sure the star biker always puts her best face forward. “Female athletes don’t want a hard edge like a man in eyewear,” he says. “They still want a sexy, soft look. Niki has style.”

But it’s not just Gudex’s undeniable good looks that make her a great fit for Oakley, it’s also her spirit. “Niki does things for the right reason,” says Blick. “She is independently spirited and has passion for what she does. She brings a lot to the table for Oakley and encourages women to work hard and play harder. Oakley wants to inspire people to fall in love with sports and to try something new.”

Being a multi-faceted athlete with enormous talent, creativity and a love of the game makes Gudex a powerful representative of Oakley. “Having the body and the engine to compete is only part of the picture,” notes Blick. “If you have passion for what you do and do it with a smiling face, you’re marketable. Niki has been that person for Oakley.”

— Melissa Arkin