As David Kessler ’11 finished the 75th and final mile of his race at the 2009 U.S. Junior National Road Race Championships, a few different thoughts may have been going through his head…
The Colorado Academy rising Junior may have been thinking about his tough class schedule for the coming Fall.
The future industrial designer for The North Face may have been noting whether his cycling shoes were giving him maximum return on his pedal strokes.
Most likely, the 16-year-old junior professional cyclist was screaming inside, “I won!”
That was one of many victories for the 10-year pro-level cyclist who has gone on to apply his cycling knowledge, along with his passion for art, to design high-performance athletic gear.
“Art and design were part of my experience at CA on a very core level,” Kessler says. “My interest in design and my decision to make it my long-term career path started there.”
Student during the week, elite athlete on the weekends
Looking back, Kessler—who attended CA from Grades 7 through 12—is amazed he was able to endure the school’s rigorous academics while competing at cycling’s highest level.
He cycled to school every day—even in blizzards—and used study halls and free blocks to fit in 2- to 3-hour training rides in the mountains after school. He’d stay up till 10:30 p.m. doing homework and then get up at daybreak to do it all again. He also managed to make time to participate on the U.S. Community Council and Cross Country team while at CA.
“In my pursuit to get to the pro cycling level, CA worked with me to meet the academic challenges at the same time,” he says. “Teachers helped me one-on-one and gave me work I could do while living and racing in Europe.”
While other college-prep schools tend to emphasize a particular area of education and encourage students to specialize early on, Kessler says, CA offers a perfect balance of athletics, academics, and the arts.
“It was amazing. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that anywhere else,” he says.
The moment he learned he could create anything he wanted
In addition to giving him space for his elite-level cycling career, he says CA set the groundwork for his current design career.
“The teachers’ love for learning and for their subject area was infectious,” says Kessler, who went on to earn a degree in industrial design from the renowned Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
Before maker spaces and fabrication labs were commonplace in education, Kessler was able to experiment with product design at CA. Then art teacher (now Director of Visual and Performing Arts) Katy Hills helped him learn woodworking and made him feel empowered to follow his interests.
“She really gave me the green light to pursue whatever I wanted,” Kessler says of Hills. “I owe a lot to her.”
With this support, Kessler embraced the idea that, combining his artistic hand and modern design technology, he could build, invent, or engineer anything.
“I had a lot of opportunities to take risks and listen to my heart,” he says. “Every single teacher I had at CA had an uncompromising dedication to putting students and the overall learning environment first. That was so inspiring.”
What it’s like to work for The North Face
After a decade of elite-level road cycling, mountain biking, and cyclocross in the U.S. and throughout Europe, Kessler is still licensed as a Category 1 pro-level cyclist. But these days, he spends less time training and more time riding for fun with his co-workers. He commutes to work on the same roads he grew up training on.
“I’m focused on my work,” says the materials and trim designer for The North Face, which moved its headquarters to Denver in 2018.
He uses 3D modeling software and prototyping tools to design materials, zippers, buckles, and carabiners, with a big focus on sustainability. Recently, he’s been working on The North Face’s Summit and Steep Series mountain sports apparel lines and designing plaid prints for the entire apparel collection.
“The North Face is a great company, and my team is fantastic,” he says. “And to be in Colorado, a place that reflects our brand values, is amazing.”
Plus, for the Denver native, coming to Denver meant coming home. He lives less than a mile from his mom and not far from CA—the institution that helped cement the core of his identity: cyclist, designer, lifelong learner.
“I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “More than mere college prep, CA is a place that helps you grow into the person you want to be.”