Eli Kerr Seeks The Art Of Life

I’m Eli Kerr, co-founder and CEO of Gnarly Nutrition.

For This Moment

It’s a quiet Sunday morning, and snow is falling outside. Breakfast has been served and eaten. The van is filled with 5 pairs of skis, warm clothes, 5 pairs of ski gloves, four kids, and me, their dad. We just pulled up to Sundance, our local ski resort, when one kid realizes they don’t have their ski boots. With a discouraged turn of the steering wheel and a sigh of defeat, the van is quickly pointed back toward home to pick up the forgotten ski boots. 

This is a typical morning for us. The last time it was a missing coat, the time before that it was a pair of skis left in the driveway, still waiting patiently to be loaded up. We arrive home, the ski boots are quickly retrieved, and we cautiously start driving up the snow-filled road. Dèjá vu. It’s been an hour since we first left the house this morning and a substantial amount of snow has fallen. In fact, I find myself outside the car laying in the snow, trying to attach the snow chains around one of the rear wheels. Damn. My hands are cold. The chain clicks into place. Success! I climb back in the car and stretch my cold, painful fingers in front of the heater vents. The kids, content—maybe they never even noticed I was gone—are still singing along to Cardi B (not “WAP,” that is the only one that’s off-limits). 

The kids are growing up. I don’t think any faster than most kids, but I suppose I don’t really know. Regardless, it’s too fast. I’ll admit we try to decelerate maturity as much as possible—playing nonsense games together, exercising any excuse to make farting noises and jokes, or simply demanding “snuggles” from each other (may this never ever stop). But it is happening. The kids are growing up. They are gaining independence. They are able to help each other more, they are able to help their parents more. They even clean the toilet sometimes, or make food (does cold cereal count?). They help with many things that need to be done, including sometimes taking on the responsibility of loading the van with ski gear. But generally, I would say I am used to doing most things on my own—loading the van, cooking breakfast, putting on the snow chains, and remembering all the other things that need to be done. I imagine their mother is used to it too. It’s been about two years now—well, four years if you include the two years of separation before we divorced. Now she does all the things in her home with the kids on her own, and I do all the things with the kids in mine. 

We finally park the van at the ski resort. I leave the snow chains on. We may need them again and I want to be efficient. We take our time getting on all our clothing, pulling on socks, buckling boots, zipping up coats, and putting on helmets. 

“I have to pee,” says the youngest. 

 “Of course you do,” I reply, and it all comes off again. 

On the chair lift we joke about getting pitted, about who has the biggest jumps or sickest tricks. We talk about school, friends, songs we are into, and movies we have seen. Sometimes we don’t talk and we just sit. The silence isn’t awkward, but rather one of reflection and wonder. Looking right, towards the skyline, the shadows on the nearby ridges of the large peaks tempt one to explore further and higher, outside of the protection and security of the ski resort. What else is out there? What am I missing out on? Other times the silence may simply be that everyone is too damn cold to say a word. Whatever we end up doing, I always love it. Today, we are excited about skiing the back mountain with its steeper terrain and lots of “fresh pow.” 

The first turns of the day are uneasy and awkward and make me wonder if I even know what I’m doing. Then my confidence comes back, and the feeling of the ski turn on the snow moves through me. I know the kids are feeling it too. We all ski down, leap-frogging one another. Stopping and shouting at each other. Encouraging and hollering. Laughing and smiling. Egging each other on and passing out high fives. That is usually when it happens. That is when some distant thought comes back to me. What even happened this morning? I haven’t forgotten it all. But it’s as if I remember a little less. Making breakfast, loading the van, doubling back for forgotten boots, the snow chains and cold hands, dressing, undressing, peeing, dressing again. All the little moments required to get us here—for this, right now. This moment. The troubles of the morning fade. They seem distant and melt away like the cold from my fingers. They no longer matter. The current moment becomes stronger, more precious and lasting. It was all worth it for this moment.

I’m Eli Kerr, co-founder and CEO of Gnarly Nutrition.

You would think that with all the athletes I have met, other brands I do business with, marketing and sales Zoom meetings and calls, and number of times I have been a guest on podcasts or panels, that I would have a solid regular intro figured out by now. Well, I don’t. I have been an entrepreneur for eight years and a father for fourteen years and it still feels like I have very little figured out. So personally, I am not surprised. Are you?

Here is the best one I have never used and probably won’t ever use again.

My three greatest priorities in life currently are the following in order:

  • Being a father and co-parent to four beautiful and remarkable children. 

  • Being a friend, lover, and support to my sweet partner, Hala. 

  • Leading and managing the company that I helped start eight years ago called Gnarly Nutrition

I love people and care for them deeply, but consider myself a bit introverted. I expend much of my energy either trying to learn or filling up my time with moments that are meaningful. That means creating memories with my kids, my partner, friends and family, and sometimes powerful solo moments. I love adventures, and will spend as much time as possible outdoors—in the mountains specifically. Skiing, climbing, and running, but I mostly love running in the mountains and seeing as much as possible. I consider long days on my feet fun. I absolutely love reading books, but I have never read a book on “good parenting.” Right now I would say art is what is inspiring me the most and I am trying to find a way to challenge myself to act on that inspiration. This may be one of the more difficult things I have tried.  

Here Kitty Kitty Kitty. Welcome to Las Vegas.

Created by the renowned art collective out of Sante Fe, New Mexico, known as Meow Wolf, Omega Cart is an immersive experience that will leave you wondering where the hell even am I? This art installation will turn you inside out. These artists have a way of putting you right inside the mundane and ordinary, but also culturally significant, day–to–day absurdities of our lives. They push you to examine the pressures of conformity, and the definitions of ourselves and environment that are handed to us, wrapped in beautiful packaging, by those who are most influential in our lives. You can simply enjoy the bizarre creativity and literally thousands of hours required for installation, or fully dive-in as deep as you want, connecting the intricate details of the artists’ storyline. Either way, the exhibit will leave you questioning the very powers that be—with a slight sense of humor, of course. 

The Art of Life

One goal that has always been very clear to me is that I want to be a “master at the art of living.” That may be vague. Let me explain.

Activities based in the mountains provide me with a complete body and mind challenge, as well as a reset for my body and mind. I tend to lean towards running in the mountains, skiing, and climbing. I have run a bunch of hard, steep mountain races, as well as a handful of mountain marathons and 55k distances. Plenty of long full–day objectives to distant peaks or beautiful, serene landscapes. Last year, right as we approached the onset of Covid–19, I ran my first 50-mile ultra. One of my favorite runs happened last summer—I took a weekend to ride my motorcycle on a 500-mile loop and took a half day to solo run 26 miles up King’s Peak, Utah’s highest summit. Why? Because I like what it requires from me. What a challenge like that pulls out of my soul, and in turn what it requires of my physical body. 

These kinds of events, and the day–to–day training required to meet these demands, create moments of meditation. Times where the distractions of life, the daily responsibilities, tasks, and problems that our minds are constantly trying to solve, are for a brief moment put to rest. I begin to think. Deal with my inner pains. With my coping mechanisms on hold, my insecurities surface and oftentimes, so do my emotions. Time for reflection. Therapy. It’s when I “do the work.” It can also be a time for creative problem solving, a time in which one enters a place referred to by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as “flow” (I highly recommend his book by the same title, as well as Steven Kotler’s, The Rise of Superman). This state allows me to tap into a creative space that I don’t normally have access to, and from which I am able to approach problems more intuitively. 

These activities have helped me build greater self-efficacy in my personal life. They have been the primary inspiration behind the brand I helped co-found and now lead as the CEO. Born in the Wasatch mountains, Gnarly Nutrition is focused on bringing high quality sports nutrition to the outdoor industry. My hobbies are intricately woven into the fabric of my work which are also intricately woven with the strands of my family life. As a father with four children, we spend much of our time focused around activities outside. Skiing on weekends and rock-climbing road trips, with bike rides and skateboarding in between. Backpacking has been one of the latest endeavours we are exploring.

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both. Enough for him that he does it well.”
  - L.P. Jacks

If you catch me working, you may think that I am playing. If you catch me out with the kids, it may look like I am working, and if you come out to play with me, you may find yourself on an outing with the kids too. In other words, there isn’t a whole lot of separation. I have deliberately cross stitched my personal life, hobbies, family, and work so closely together you can’t pull one string without unravelling the other. In my opinion this is the pathway towards becoming a “master in the art of living.” 

A Few of My Favorites

Podcast: How I Built this - Guy Raz. This podcast has become quite well known. Guy does a phenomenal job interviewing founders of some of the largest and most successful brands that we have all come to love, or in some cases, hate. He explores the human aspect of starting a company. The luck involved, and the intelligence and dollars it requires. Somewhere in the middle you realize that these brands were founded, created, and built by humans—just like you. 

Music Album: Falling Faster Than You Can Run - Nathaniel Rateliff. Cannot stop listening to his tender poetic vocals accompanied by bellowing howls. Each song leaves me with a longing for different moments in my life that reminded me that feelings give life a sense of reality.

Personal faves: “I Am,” “Three Fingers in,” and “When Do You See.”

Book: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. At nearly 40 I am learning from Robin about the power of gifts, specifically those that Nature (Earth) gives us, and our personal role in reciprocity. 

Restaurant: Laziz Kitchen, SLC. Delicious Lebenese food that can be enjoyed on a date or with a group of friends. I am a huge fan of small dishes that you can share and eat with your hands. Grilled Halloumi is a treat any cheese lover will swoon over. Muhammera is an absolute have-to. Add the Spiced Labne and Beet Dip together on a Sampler Dip Plate if you want the full experience. Their Zaatar Fries with Toum garlic sauce is incredible. Finish with a cup of Arabic Coffee.

As I sign off, thank you for sharing this space and time with me. I have loved recalling some sweet memories, and recognizing the beauty of writing them down and the vulnerability that comes with sharing them publicly. Sometimes you will find me writing thoughts and memories, or sharing inspiration or an adventure or two, via @gnarlyczar. Here is to each one of us as we put our efforts out into this world. May they all be as deliberate as possible. 

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