By B.C. Manion
Nicola Spirig won the women’s triathlon at the 2012 Olympics for her home country of Switzerland in dramatic fashion, but a little piece of Lutz was along for the race.
Spirig completed the event, which included a grueling 1,500-meter swim, 43-kilomenter bike ride and 10-kilometer run, in 1 hour 59 minutes 48 seconds, besting Sweden’s Lisa Norden in a photo finish. At press time Spirig’s competitor was still challenging the result.
Spirig’s win was the first Olympic gold medal claimed by Switzerland at the London Games and the first by an athlete using a bicycle seat invented by Steve Toll, a man who lives and works in Lutz.
Steve and his wife, Laura, were at the Olympics when Spirig won the triathlon. They had been photographing the cyclists during the race and were making their way to the finish line, but the crowds were too thick for them to get close.
“It was just packed,” Steve said. “We couldn’t get there.”
But they knew Spirig had a shot.
“There were four of them that were running in a pack together,” Steve said. “We could hear the announcements. They ran by us, but we couldn’t see them very well. Two of them dropped off and those two just sprinted to the end. It was a photo finish.
“I just got goose bumps all over my body,” Steve continued. “I was like holy smokes, I can’t believe this. … And then, you’re kind of just walking around in a cloud.”
Steve came up with the idea of his unique bicycle seats after going on a painful ride on the Pinellas Trail in 1997.
After making that ride, Steve was sitting in his bathroom reading when he realized the hard toilet seat was more comfortable than the bicycle he’d been riding on.
He sketched out a design for a new kind of bike seat and gave it to his brother, a model maker.
The concept was patented in 1999, and Steve began his business — Tampa Bay Recreation in the garage of his Lutz home near Van Dyke Road.
His company now owns the rights to about a dozen styles of bicycle seats sold with the trademark of ISM Seat, which stands for Ideal Saddle Modification.
Initially, Steve was the company’s sole employee.
“Everything was in the garage, and then it overflowed into the dining room, and then it overflowed into my office, and then it was coming into the living room and family room,” Steve said.
He decided to get a storage unit, which the business quickly outgrew. Now, the company has six employees, a 3,000-square-foot office and warehouse off SR 54 in Lutz.
Steve’s unique brand of bicycle seats is sold across the globe. He expects to sell somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 this year, ranging from about $85 to $225 each.
Steve said there were plenty of skeptics in the beginning.
“I was told a lot how stupid it was,” Steve said. “I was told how stupid I was. I was wasting my money, wasting my time. They looked at it and said, ‘This is stupid. Nobody is going to ride this.’”
During the years, the bicycle seats have become popular with athletes worldwide, and the company has become the sponsor of many cyclists, specifically targeting triathletes whom seem to be most open to the shape of the seat, Steve said.
The sponsorship deals often include a stipend, free seats and bonuses for performing well at specific events. Spirig is among many athletes Steve’s company sponsors. He said he hired Michellie Jones, the silver medalist in the triathlon at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, to handle his sponsorships.
Steve said it was a thrill to be at the Olympics and to hear Spirig’s name announced when she won the gold medal. One of the coolest things about the experience was being able to share it with his wife, he said.
They’ve shared a lot through three decades of marriage, including a bicycle ride on the Pinellas Trail that wound up changing everything.
To learn more about Tampa Bay Recreation, visit www.ismseat.com or call (813) 909-1441.
Kiefer Village Jewels says
Congratulations to Steve and Laura Toll! They are the nicest people and we are honored to know them, have them as Lutz business neighbors, and customers. Now, we can thank them for putting Lutz in the Olympic limelight. Great Accomplishment!