Ale is an Engineer & Cyclist
Ale Spray, Community Engagement Manager for Mortenson, talks about her passion for cycling, her bike Catalina, getting through the pandemic, how cycling has helped develop relationships in the office, and much more!
• Getting into cycling
• Her relationship with Catalina
• Group rides with co-workers
• How her organization plays a role in their culture
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Welcome to Episode 477 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. And each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby, or a passion, or an interest outside of work. And to put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that differentiate you when you’re at work.
If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book. It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, and a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. And if you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audiobooks. The book goes more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. And I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and thank you writing such nice reviews on Amazon and Good Reads and, more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.
And please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. And if you ever wanna be on the show, don’t hesitate to reach out ‘cause I’d love to share your stories as well. But week is no different with my guest, Ale Spray. She’s the business development manager in Mortenson’s Denver office. And now, she’s here with me today. Ale, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Ale: Thank you, John. I’m so excited so I can cross it out of my bucket list. I’m in a podcast of a famous person. So, done. Cross it out.
John: Oh, you’re so kind. Thank you, Ale. No. I’m so excited. We first met virtually. You were part of a book club that I jumped in on who was reading What’s Your “And”? and then I was like I would love to have you on the podcast. And then I asked again and then you’re like “Okay, fine, I’ll do it.”
Ale: I was stars struck. We were in our virtual book club and our friend, Chris, is like I have a special guest, and there you are, and we’re like “Oh, my God!” So, we’re all excited. Like we head over. So, I keep telling that story. So, yeah, thank you. And like I say, now I can cross it off my list. I have been invited in a famous person’s podcast. Ale achieved it.
John: Well, thank you so much. I feel like I’m famous to like 20 people, but it’s all good. It’s all good. You’re about to be famous too. So, that’s awesome. Yeah, it can be done. But I feel like this is a get to know Ale right out of the gate here with my 17 rapid-fire questions. So, this is gonna be so fun. This is a pretty easy one I think. Cats or dogs?
John: Dogs. Yeah. Me too.
Ale: Definitely dogs. Yeah.
John: Yeah. How about when it comes to puzzles? Sudoku, crossword, or jigsaw?
Ale: Ooh, I’m horrible at both. As a second language in English, sometimes I’m so stuck with those.
John: So, maybe jigsaw puzzle because it’s a picture?
Ale: Yeah. Maybe that will help me because it is a puzzle. Yeah, let’s go with that one. No crossword.
John: That’s funny. How about a favorite color?
Ale: Oh, that will be black. It slims everything. It hides a lot of stuff. Stains, curves, anything. Black.
John: That’s awesome. That’s so awesome. How about a least favorite color?
Ale: I will say purple. I don’t think it’s my color. It’s beautiful. It’s a royal color. It’s the color of royalty, but it doesn’t go with me as much as I want it. It’s like maybe I’m not having any royal blood in myself, but that’s the hand I take.
John: Right. That’s awesome. Okay. That’s an easy one. Favorite adult beverage.
Ale: Oh, adult beverage. I like, of course, margaritas.
John: There we go. All right. That’s an easy one. How about a favorite actor or actress?
Ale: I would say I always love watching Sidney Poitier. Yeah. Oh, my gosh. Yes. She is amazing when she did that To Sir, with Love. It was one of my favorites. And I think favorite actress I will say Meryl Streep. She’s always funny and she’s a chameleon, so yes.
John: Oh, so good in everything. Yeah. Totally. Totally. How about more of a shower or bath?
Ale: Oh, shower. Bath, I just waste water. I don’t have time. It’s just like I cannot sit back and just do nothing.
John: Right? The whole time, you’re like I’m supposed to be relaxing, but I’m thinking of everything I’m supposed to be doing.
Ale: Nah-uh, I can’t.
John: Okay. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Ale: Oh, Stars Wars. There’s nothing besides Star Wars and the originals. Let’s go with the originals. Episode 4, 5, and 6. That’s it.
John: Yeah. Exactly. No. I haven’t even seen anything beyond that because I even heard good things so I’m like “You know what? I don’t wanna ruin it.”
Ale: Don’t ruin it.
John: Yeah. There you go. How about books, audio version, e-Book, or real book?
Ale: Real book. There’s something about, I mean, turning the page, going back, highlighting. I still do some library books. Mailing the books is like “Oh, God.” Yeah. Yeah. Real books, yes.
John: Yeah. Exactly. There’s an experience with it that’s more than just the reading. Yeah. Yeah. How about a favorite number?
John: 9. Is there a reason?
Ale: I was born in September in the 9th month. I was born in the 27. So, 2 + 7 is 9. So, it’s just I believe 9 is something lucky for me, but just 9.
John: Very good. As long as it’s not a purple 9, we’re good. Right? How about your computer? More of a PC or a Mac?
Ale: Oh, I’m a PC. I have an Apple phone. I think I’m Apple challenged.
John: I love that phrase.
Ale: Yeah. I’m Apple challenged. Yeah.
John: I’m Apple challenged as well. Yeah. Definitely. How about your first concert?
Ale: Oh, my first concert, gosh, that’s a good memory there. I think it was a Spanish singer, Miguel Jose. Maybe. Yeah, back in Mexico. Yes.
John: As a kid?
Ale: I was a teenager. Yeah.
John: Oh, nice.
Ale: Yeah. He’s my favorite singer. He’s from Spain. One day, I wish to go to— He doesn’t come to the United States anymore. I mean, he has never come to United States, but I saw a couple of his concerts when I lived in Mexico. He’s my favorite.
John: Very cool. That’s great. That’s very cool. How about are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Ale: You know, I’m a night owl. I could stay up late, but I can’t get up early. And I don’t drink coffee, so that surprises a lot of people because I don’t drink coffee and I can still be upbeat and get ready to go at 6 in the morning. I wake up. I would go to bed at 1 in the morning. It’s just I can be both.
John: Yeah. Yeah. We can do margaritas in the morning. There’s no time on that.
Ale: There’s no right time for margaritas.
John: Exactly. I don’t drink coffee either. I somehow missed that boat. I don’t know, but yeah I know. All right. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?
John: Oh, vanilla. All right. Just straight old school vanilla.
Ale: Straight old good vanilla. Yes. I’m pretty boring. Lately, one of my favorite flavors is dulce de leche. It’s like a caramel. Haagen-Dazs makes the best one, so yeah. But it’s a hard one to find.
John: That’s a good option. How about a favorite day of the week?
Ale: I will say Saturday because you still have that energy from, you know— It’s not Sunday that you have to prepare mostly. Saturday you can still do a lot of stuff. And I have done a lot of my biking on Saturday, so yes.
John: Oh. Well then, there we go. That’s exactly the best day. There you go. And since you have the engineering background, I’ll ask you buildings or bridges?
Ale: I love bridges. There’s a lot of metaphor with the bridges connecting towns, connecting communities. Even traveling in a bridge that has been that majestic over a river is just— Buildings are amazing. But bridges is, like I say, you can take the metaphor of what it means to have a bridge connecting those communities.
John: Yeah. I know. You’re exactly right. I mean I lived in New York City for a long time. And you know, you had the Brooklyn Bridge especially. I mean, it looks magnificent, but it’s 2 pieces of land that were not supposed to be connected that man came along and said “Nope, we’re connecting them.”
Ale: The Golden Gate is in my bucket list too.
John: Oh, yeah. Golden Gate Bridge is very cool too. Yeah. Fun fact: They never stopped painting it. Like once they get to the end, it’s time to start painting the beginning again. They’re painting it like all the time. Like they never stop painting the Golden Gate Bridge.
John: That’s how big it is. Yeah. That’s crazy. Right?
Ale: Cool. I learn something new now. Okay.
John: Right? So, there we go. The show is over. No. I’m kidding. I think we’re on the last one. The last one is the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Ale: Favorite thing I have, I will say Catalina, my bike.
John: Oh, she’s got a name. Okay.
Ale: She has a name. Yes.
John: Yeah. And what kind of bike is it?
Ale: It’s a touring bike. It’s a road bike. She has been with me even when my firstborn was born. It was interesting because I was pregnant and a friend of mine was selling it. And I went and bought it and I start crying and then my ex-husband tells “What’s wrong?” And I say “I’m a horrible mother. I don’t have a crib, but I have a sick bike.”
John: Right. Well, you got priorities in order. Come on now.
Ale: Oh, yeah. So, yeah. I feel horrible because, you know, everybody buys the crib and everything. And I’m like “Nope, I want this bike.” It’s a red touring bike. It’s a Greg LeMond. I don’t know the year, but it’s a Greg LeMond red bike.
John: Wow. That’s awesome. Even I know what that is. That’s awesome. That’s so cool, which leads right into your hobby or passion outside of work. Your “and” of cycling. And so, how did you get started with cycling?
Ale: Interesting because when I was growing up in Mexico, my mom threw a big 7-year-old party. And it was awesome. But when the party was over, I told her “For the next year, I want a bike.” And it caught my mine on surprise because my older brother and my older sister they never ask for a bike. There was no bikes in our house.
John: Nothing to pass down.
Ale: Nothing like that. So, it’s like “Where is this girl getting the idea of a bike?”
So, the next year, I got a Green Hornet looking bike. Horrible color. Not a girly color, but I didn’t care. It was a bike. And for me, it was freedom. I don’t know what kind of freedom for an 8-year-old. And nobody in my family knew how to ride it. So, I have to learn. And I did it the same way as the Strides, this bike that little kids are riding. Putting my feet down and kind of rolling around. And I taught myself how to ride the bike. You know, I enjoyed that freedom of being in the bike. So, fast forward 2020, I’m gonna make my best intentions and everything, and we get hit with a pandemic. And during the quarantine, I was falling into depression because I was not able to see my friends, my coworkers. I’m a people person. My battery gets recharged when I see people. So, I was falling into depression and I have a personal bad relationship ending. And it was so bad for me. I was just finding ways to hold on.
Catalina was holding in the garage collecting dust for the past 2.5 years. And I didn’t wanna ride her because like if I get a flat tire, I don’t know how to fix it. I always have somebody helping me. So, I was like “How do I do this?” So, one day, it’s like I moved to a different country. I learned a second language. I have this job. I have raised kids. So, I think a flat tire is not gonna stop me. So, I went to a bike shop. I got more tools that I needed for fixing a tire. I mastered my skills thanks to YouTube. And Catalina and I, we started riding. The first day was like a 3-mile because I was out of shape. And at the end of the summer of 2020, I accomplished the mile of 50 miles.
John: Wow! You’re 50 miles in one ride? Oh, my goodness. That would take me like 3 weeks. That’s amazing.
Ale: And it was in a period of 4 months that I started from 3 miles 04 mine is that I started from 3 miles, 5 miles, 10 miles in 1 day. It’s like Catalina and I were gonna go for a long ride. And yet, when computer hit the 50-mile, I start crying. I have talked to that bike more than I should.
Ale: She’s the perfect listener. She never complains. She never talks back.
John: She doesn’t judge you. Really? That’s so good.
Ale: When she’s not happy with me, she makes a flat tire when she’s like “Okay, girl, this is not cool. So, we’re gonna have a flat tire.”
John: Right. That’s so fantastic. I love it. That’s so great. I guess just wanting that freedom and wanting to be outside and to go, and explore, and all that and then to bring it back in your adulthood. And then also too Catalina was, like you said, collecting dust for 2-3 years. How was it different now that you’re riding versus when Catalina was just sitting there on the side?
Ale: I feel like we have to kind of not take things for granted anymore. And the little things that can give us that satisfaction, they have always been there, you know. It’s nothing really like the big house, the big car. It’s just something that compliments you. I mean, she didn’t even have a name. So, I even named her because one day we finished a ride and I say “Okay, girl, you and I, we’re gonna spend a lot of time together. So, I need to name you. So, I need to connect with you.” So, her red color, her little Argentinian background kind of thing that I kinda gave her. And I give her that personality. People know who Catalina is. Some people actually hug Catalina. So, it was more the feeling free, taking time for myself that I deserve to because you cannot keep helping or be part of a team if your bucket is empty. So, that’s how I feel like I recharge myself. I got my ideas. I have the best ideas. I have calmed myself from situations. I have rethink approaches to emails, the conversation, just getting on that bike and thinking.
You know, you’re still minding the traffic and everything, but I have done a lot of thinking, exploration, soul searching when I have been in that bike because it’s just me and my power of pushing for. And life and your work is the same way. You have uphills that you have to prepare mentally. You have those flat, easy, cruising kind of moments. And you have those downhill moments that you have to enjoy because you worry about the traffic of course and breaking up at the moment if you need to, but it’s kinda like that downhill that is the wind taking you. It’s like enjoy because you have to enjoy the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to really experience life and it’s best because that’s what I learned from her, you know. And uphill, you prepare mentally. You’re focusing in one little step at a time or a little portion of the road ahead of you. And then one moment, you realize I’m on top of it. I made it, you know.
John: Yeah. No. I love that so much and that analogy of sometimes the wind is behind your back and sometimes you are going downhill and things are great, you know. And your momentum is with you and sometimes it’s not. Because you’ve ridden 50 miles and you’ve done all these rides, I imagine that translates to work when sometimes at work this is an uphill moment, everybody. And we just gotta buckle down and drop it in the right gear and let’s go.
Ale: And pace yourself because you cannot just completely burn yourself in the first mile because you might have a really steady uphill. It’s like “Okay. How am I gonna pace myself for my team not to feel burnout, for me not to feel burnout?” So, it helps you to also plan, prepare mentally, and the energy that you have, the food you have because you have your bars, you have your water. So, it’s like it paces you in a different way. Yes.
John: I love that so much. That’s so good. And so, you said that people know Catalina’s name. So, is this something that comes up at work?
Ale: Oh, yeah. Because we have people here with bikes. So, when I brought her on the first group ride, it’s like “This is Catalina.” So, I introduced her. So, people know she is part of me. Ale the biker and Ale, Catalina come together. We’re a Twinkie package.
John: That’s so good. So, does Mortenson do group rides?
Ale: Yes. We do group rides. We have the MSA Colorado. The first year that they didn’t have it because of COVID, we created our own route. We visit job sites. We took our pictures. We came back.
John: Oh, nice.
Ale: And casually, when it’s a nice weather, people say “Hey, we’re gonna go down the Cherry Creek path. So, we go, a couple of us. So, it brings us in a different conversation and a different bonding. It’s like “Hey, for Christmas, I give myself a Peloton. So, I call it Catalina version 2.” So, I have a conversation for her not to be jealous. It’s like “In the wintertime, I cannot ride you. So, I’m doing the Peloton.” Yeah. Some people think I’m crazy because I really talk to that bike like I talk to one of my kids.
John: Yeah. Well, you know, I mean, why not? It’s processing yourself. It’s crazier to talk to yourself, I think, than talk to a bike. So, why not? And Catalina’s listening and she’s helping and that’s all that matters. But I think it’s so cool that the company has group rides and it’s a construction company. So, you go to sites and you take pictures. So, it’s kind of weaving that “and” with the work, which is super cool. So, those relationships with the people that cycle I would imagine are a little bit different than just everyone else that you work with.
Ale: Oh, yeah. Definitely. When you talk with somebody who is a biker, sometimes you are “Hey, do you ride this weekend?” “Yeah.” “How long?” And sometimes even during the weekend we’re texting each other. “Hey, I did a 20-mile ride today. It was awful, you know, the wind.” At least 3 or 4 people that I have this exchange is a different level conversation. It’s a different kind of bonding because you stayed experience the same thing. You pace yourself. And at the beginning of the season, of course, it’s kind of hard because you have been not moving your legs much, but we encourage each other. We kind of plan what ride are we doing next time. “And hey, who’s coming on Friday? No worries if you can’t. Maye you can join us.” So, yes, it’s non-stress. It’s a different relationship, different conversation.
John: Yeah. I love that so much. It’s so awesome. So awesome. I guess how much is it on an organization to create that culture that people can share their “and” or even create those groups and how much is it on the individual to maybe just start that little circle on them on their own?
Ale: I think you have to have that safe environment. We talk about this whole diversity inclusion equity portion of it that people, companies, organization are pushing more because it’s part of creating a winning team. You cannot come and say “Hey, I’m this professional. But when I’m off work, I’m a biker.” No. Those years are over. I’m a true self. I want you to get to know me. I want you to include me because I’m Ale. I’m a biker. I’m an engineer. I’m a team player. So, it’s all together. But when you have an organization that promotes a company that has a bike rack by the bathrooms, they have lockers and showers that can tell you you are welcome to do this, it’s not so hard. And even for small businesses because I work with small business, if you wanna create this culture, you just have to say “Hey guys, we’re gonna do this on the weekend” or “We’re gonna do this after work.” It’s just intention of really creating that space for your employees or your team to say let’s bond in a different level.
John: And you brought up the diversity equity, and inclusion, and accessibility like the DEIA world. How have you seen What’s Your “And”? impact that? You know, it’s just when you think of people that— We all have our bias. You just think this person from this culture maybe they’re not as outdoorsy or this culture they are totally outdoorsy. So, when people understand that “no, yes, we have bikes back in Mexico, we used to ride a lot”—
I make that joke that a lot of people are kind of like “Oh, okay.” It just has to be healthy because, again, I enjoy talking. You know how I talk about Catalina, how I enjoy being outside. So, this is me beyond my skin tone, beyond my accent, beyond everything. This is me. I have so much in common with you that you grew up in Michigan, you grew up in Wyoming, or you grew up in Wisconsin that we both came together. We might not agree in a couple things even in a professional setting, but when we can get together, it’s the same 13 miles flat or uphill for both of us. So, we both are gonna be chasing that hill the same way. Different gears, different strength, but it’s the same hill for both of us.
John: Now, I love that and I love how it brings you together with someone, like you said, people from different countries, different states, different backgrounds, and different nationalities and yet there’s that common anchor point of cycling or outdoor activities that you can bond with them over, which is fantastic.
Ale: And we encourage each other because, like I said, when you start biking again after a long winter, it’s like “Uh, I’m just gonna go 5 miles. No, it’s nothing.” And it’s like “Hey, you got on the bike. That’s perfect. And when we have done a ride as a team, we stay together. Three go a little farther ahead. We stay as team and we share. We take pictures. We kind of grind it like “Oh, my God, that hill.” So, it’s just that bonding and that camaraderie (I think that’s how you say) that just brings you together and encourage you. We push each other to the best of us.
John: Yeah. And everyone gets better. Everyone’s better in work and in cycling. Yeah. Everybody wins. That’s so awesome. That’s so awesome.
Ale: And I have to say something more. Our CEO— we have our headquarters in Minneapolis— he came and visit. And he wanted to tour some job sites in a bike. So, they say “Hey, Ale, you have helped marketing with taking pictures. You have a bike. So, can you go with the group and take pictures?” And our CEO or the owner of the company, he recognizes me as “Oh, Ale, she likes to bike.” So, for somebody that oversees 5,000 employees that can relate to me like “Ale, she took pictures when we were biking and she—” So, it helped me and support me to stand out in a different way too.
John: That’s so great because it’s not Ale, the business development person. It’s Ale, the cyclist and likes to bike. And he knew you and that’s so cool. I mean that had to feel just super rewarding because it’s like “Wow! That’s awesome.” It’s the opposite of when you’re a kid and the principal calls you and that’s cool, you know.
Ale: Yeah. You’re riding a bike in the school ground. That’s not a good thing. So, yeah, I got an email from him saying thank you so much for joining us in our ride and thank you for taking pictures because I also the pictures. He was with his brother saying they haven’t been together in a while biking together. So, like we’re gonna send this to our mother. So, there was a lot of things that happened with that bike.
John: That’s so cool to hear. That’s awesome. And have you not shared your “and” or have you not— You know, had people at work not known that, then none of that would have happened. So cool. I guess before we wrap this up though, it’s only fair that I turn the tables since I so rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning, that we make this the first episode of the Ale Spray podcast. And thanks for having me on as a guest and you could ask me whatever you want.
Ale: Okay. So, John, thank you for being in the podcast. Thank you for writing that book and for bringing— to help us realize that our “and” is what bonds us together as humans. So, I have a couple 5 questions for you. First one, tacos or pasta?
John: That’s a tough one. You know, I’ll go tacos I think. I’ll go tacos.
Ale: Perfect. Next, Monopoly or Battleship?
John: Ooh. You know, Monopoly, there’s a lot of negotiating and all these other side deals happening. Yeah. Yeah. There’s a game within the game. Yeah. Correct.
Ale: I was also gonna put Monopoly. Okay. Popcorn or candy at the movies?
John: Yeah. Candy.
Ale: Candy. Okay.
John: Not just at the movies. Any time. I mean, popcorn is always good, but candy is gonna— Sometimes you put the M&Ms in the popcorn though if you wanna get fancy. Then get some plain M&Ms.
Ale: I cannot take that.
John: Right. Right.
Ale: Okay. So, you say you are a green or a yellow crayon?
John: Ooh, I’m gonna go green I think. I’m gonna go green on that one. Yeah.
Ale: Okay. So, my last question, if an actor could play you in a movie, say the John Garrett movie, what actor will be playing you?
John: Oh, man. I don’t even know. I mean, I guess there’s a guy that’s sort of my doppelganger, Tom Cavanagh.
He’s Canadian. I think there’s some superhero show that he’s doing now I think or something. I mean, he seems like a cool guy and nice. And he kinda looks like me unfortunately for him.
Ale: Now, but not looking like you. You have to say—
John: Any actor. Oh, yeah. I’d probably say Jim Carey just because he’s so funny and so like animated. You never know what he’s gonna do next. And as an actor, I mean, yeah, just absolutely hilarious, so yeah.
Ale: Okay. Well, I have one more if you are ready for one more. Okay. If you can define your life as a cover of a record, which one will you be?
John: My life as like a record?
Ale: Cover of a record.
John: I’m trying to think of what record albums, I mean, since we don’t even see record albums anymore. Yeah, that’s a tough one. Only iconic albums are coming to my mind, but like Nirvana, but I’m not a naked baby swimming in a pool. You know, Pink Floyd with like the prism. Yeah. Maybe that one I guess. Probably Pink Floyd with the prism where like a beam of light comes in, but then it hits the prism and then it just refracts all the colors out of it. So, I think that would probably be it actually because people think that you’re sort of this bland, one color light, but then all of a sudden a prism hits it and then there’s this magic that’s inside that light that you unlock there.
Ale: I guess when you put your “and” glasses, you could see really all the colors that people—
John: Yeah. There you go. I love it. The “and” glasses. That’s it. And then all of a sudden, you just see all these other dimensions to me and to others. So, yeah, I think it would be that one. Yeah. So, that’s a really good question. I mean, my brain hurts right now. That was good. That was awesome. No, but I really appreciate you being a part of this, Ale. Thanks so much for being on What’s Your “And”?
Ale: Thank you so much for your invitation, and the good time, and the reflection. So, hopefully, it will help somebody see things a little different.
John: Absolutely. And everybody listening, if you wanna see some pictures of Ale and Catalina or connect with Ale on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there. And while you’re on the page, please click that big button. Do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture, and don’t forget to check out the book.
So, thanks again for subscribing on Apple podcast or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.