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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

From Gaga to Gunnars, URI Ironman is doing it all

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 11, 2011 – Matthew Michelsen is the average all-American man: entrepreneur, husband, father of three, who in his spare time, likes to hang out with his friend 50 Cent.

Michelsen, who graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1994 with a degree in consumer economics, was in Rhode Island to compete in the Amica Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island event on Sunday, July 10. This is the latest big challenge he’s taken on in his life.

The California-based businessman met Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson a few years ago when the rapper and business mogul called the cell phone of Matt’s wife, Jenny, when the rapper wanted to talk about Gunnar Optiks, their digital performance eyewear company. “Jennifer answered the phone, assumed the man on the other end claiming to be 50 Cent was just one of my friends joking around, and handed the call to me,” said Michelsen, who met his wife while they were students at URI. “Imagine my surprise when I realized it was really him.”

The Michelsens created the product to prevent migraines, which were a symptom of Matt’s computer vision syndrome, a problem that occurs after prolonged interaction with a computer display and strains the eyes. Jennifer came up with the idea in 2008, and now Gunnars are sold worldwide in 26 countries by retailers including Best Buy and Amazon.

Networking through California social circles led Michelsen to Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s business manager. Michelsen now manages social media for the singer-songwriter, who is often referred to in the media as “the next Madonna.” Any Little Monster, as Lady Gaga affectionately calls her fans, will vouch that this is an impressive career considering Gaga’s strong online presence.

Despite working with a mega-star like Lady Gaga, Michelsen says dealing with celebrities happens regularly on the West Coast.

The whirlwind that is social media is taking over the technology world today. Many celebrities have found that it is a tremendously useful tool to promote themselves, and also, as Lady Gaga has discovered, a way to connect with fans on a much more personal level than ever before.

Gaga already actively uses popular social networking websites Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace. Now, she will also be the pioneer for Backplane, an entirely new social media platform that Michelsen and Carter have created.

Currently, each social networking website is its own independent entity. Backplane will behave in two ways. First, it will act as a site for celebrities and organizations to post information for their fans and integrate posts from their Facebook and Twitter sites. Backplane also will allow fans to post their own articles and information that they would like to share with a celebrity and his or her fan base. Celebrities often say that they are most thankful for the support from their fans; now, that support will be on display for the world to see.

Michelsen approached Google with an idea for a Chrome commercial featuring Lady Gaga. The spot, which has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube, incorporates clips from YouTube videos that her fans posted of themselves singing and dancing to one of her newest singles, The Edge of Glory. Michelsen became the executive producer of that commercial and worked with Google on another about Justin Bieber’s rise to fame, done in a similar style.

This year, Michelsen is adding even more onto his already-full plate by training for the Ford Ironman World Championship at Kailua-Kona. He has never been the most physically active person and was not interested in the competition until he watched his brother-in-law participate last year. Others like Lew Hollander, who competed last year at 80 years old, made him realize that the Ironman is not just about the competition.

Michelsen regularly trains for countless hours per week to prepare himself for the triathlon, saying that at first it was difficult to become motivated, but the exercise became routine and he began looking forward to it.

“My goal is to inspire people to press the reset button,” said Michelsen. “I want to bring awareness of endurance sports to non-athletes and get them involved in physical activity. It’s addictive, and it makes you feel good.”

Michelsen’s visit to Rhode Island will be his second trip back since graduating from URI 17 years ago. He looks forward to experiencing Little Rhody once again with Jennifer and introducing their sons to the Ocean State.

Pictured above
TIME TO TRAIN: Matt Michelsen does a Lactate Threshold test at the Ironman Sports Institute at the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston, Texas to prepare for the Ironman Triathlon.

FRIENDLY WAGER: Rapper 50 Cent tweeted this picture of himself with Michelsen after discussing the California entrepreneur’s latest endeavor: the Ironman competition.