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The following are excerpts from both Neil Sandler's nomination letter and Dave Arnold's presentation speech:

2001 West Virginia Tourism Conference, Canaan Valley Resort State Park

Davis, WV—This year, the West Virginia Division of Tourism received four nominations for its highly coveted “Tourism Person of the Year” award. This award is presented to a person whose performance continuously stands out. A person whose performance not only enhances the growth of a particular business, but also helps set West Virginia’s tourism industry apart from those of other states. The Tourism Person of the Year is a person whose sense of responsibility, excitement and enthusiasm for a chosen profession or business goes beyond just “doing the job” or “making a living” or “putting in hours.”

Anyone who talks to the Tourism Person of the Year knows that his or her career path is a life path. It’s a part of the person’s total personality and is a 24/7 activity, one that doesn’t know a time clock, a paycheck or a quitting time. This year, Laird Knight, founder and president of Granny Gear Productions based in Davis, West Virginia (Tucker County) has been awarded this most prestigious award. The award was presented by David Arnold, chairman of the Tourism Commission.

Knight is the vision and the energy behind
The 24 Hours of Canaan Bike Team Relay (now known as The 24 Hours of Snowshoe). This event has been listed as one of the top three mountain bike events in the United States by both Mountain Bike and Mountain Bike Action magazines and his 24 Hours of Moab race has been voted the #1 mountain bike race in the Rocky Mountains by readers of Rocky Mountain Sports.

Not content to have fearless cyclists racing across the Appalachian terrain in a 24-hour relay race, he saw potential in the desert of Moab, Utah, and the mountains of Lake Tahoe, California, where his company produces two other 24 Hour events to round out the three race Series.

Although Knight is not a West Virginia native, he’s lived in the Mountain State for more than 20 years and he based Granny Gear Productions, a sports marketing and event production company, in Davis, West Virginia. Knight is recognized as the founder of 24-hour mountain bike racing; Granny Gear’s 24 Hour Race Series attracts cyclists from all over the world, including Canada, Germany, Mexico, Argentina and Japan. With 15 different categories ranging from solo to 5-person teams, both male and female entrants, juniors to masters, Knight’s 24 Hour mountain bike team relay races are open to anyone who wants to ride day or night, rain or shine, up and down.

Today, cyclists and media around the world know about West Virginia in large part due to the popularity of the event and press coverage surrounding The 24 Hours of Canaan (now Snowshoe).

In nominating Laird Knight for this award, Neil Sandler, editor and publisher of Spokes Magazine, said: “It would be highly appropriate, in this year when the event celebrated its 10th Anniversary, that the state of West Virginia honor a man who not only created this highly popular event, but created a whole new sport. In the early 1990s, mountain biking was just getting into its own. But in many ways, the sport was searching for a soul. To anyone who has seen Laird Knight in action, or who has participated in a 24 Hour team relay, or just talked with him about the possibilities, it is clear that he is the soul of mountain biking.”

Recognized by many as the first person to open a mountain bike shop in West Virginia, Knight came to West Virginia by way of many homes, many institutes of higher education and many diverse jobs. He organized his first mountain bike race, the Canaan Mountain 40k, in 1983. Twelve brave men started the race, no one finished.

Undaunted, Laird took stock of his options and decided his strengths were his creativity, patience, generosity and hard-headed determination. (He also recognized his weaknesses as well: a short attention span, daydreaming and an affinity for Hostess fruit pies.) And he plunged ahead with his mountain bike racing dream.

Now, The 24 Hours of Snowshoe (formerly The 24 Hours of Canaan), is in its 11th year. It attracts international race teams and garners media attention that spans the globe. West Virginia’s awesome beauty and scenic mountains make a breathtaking backdrop for television footage and still photographs of one of the most exciting forms of mountain bike racing.

But the race does even more for West Virginia than most people know. Each year, Knight’s company, Granny Gear Productions, offers an Early Bird Registration Program through the American Lung Association of West Virginia (ALAWV). This year, participants raised more than $156,000 in contributions for the ALAWV—its largest single-event fundraiser.

As for mountain bike racing, today there are more than 44 24-hour team relays in the United States. And there are several international races as well. As founder of the 24-hour team relay format, Knight has produced sister events in Moab, Utah, and Lake Tahoe, California.

Knight told Vernon Felton, editor-at-large at Bike Magazine, that many of his friends took him aside and told him he was crazy to quit his day job to start Granny Gear Productions. Knight’s “hard-headed determination” panned out and a new genre in mountain bike racing was born. For Knight, it was a simple calling: he knew the fun factor could take 24-hour racing over the top and that gave him the confidence he needed to follow his dream.

“Never say never” may best describe the Tourism Person of the Year. A man whose optimism and enthusiasm, whose commitment to bringing the best to West Virginia and to building an international reputation from his headquarters in Davis, really do allow West Virginia to show its best, time and time again.

When accepting the “Tourism Person of the Year” Award, Knight thanked his staff (Elizabeth A. Gillespie, Suzanne Goff Andre and Cheryl L. Cassell) and the West Virginia Tourism Commission. “This is truly an honor, especially coming from such a hard-working and dedicated group of people. I’m really pleased with the recognition that mountain biking has achieved in this state,” Knight said. In his closing remarks, Knight mentioned his favorite bumper sticker: “I wasn’t born a West Virginian...but I’ll die one.”
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For photographic materials, call Elizabeth Gillespie at (304)259-5533

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127 Springfield Ave
Morgantown, WV 26505
Phone: 304-259-5533
Fax: 435-608-1699

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