It’s not always easy for Christopher Strong to balance both country living and Chicago bustle, but it’s always worth the drive.
By Alison Foster
Christopher Strong inhabits three worlds. During the span of a single week, he moves with ease from the corporate landscape of boardrooms and email inboxes to the countryside vista of rolling pastures and morning chores, then on to the horse–show world of equitation classes and purple brightening shampoo that’s essential for his copper-and-chrome mount. While many of Christopher’s colleagues are surprised to learn about his “other lives” and the unlikely combination of corporate marketer, rural farmer and world-class competitor, he loves his multifaceted lifestyle and the balancing acts it so often entails.
During work hours, Christopher dwells in the high-octane setting of corporate Chicago, where he spends his days atthe office of powerhouse athletic brand Nike. There, surrounded by skyscrapers, jumping between strategy sessionsand meetings, he manages the visual imagery found at Nike stores across the Central United States.
Christopher’s marketing journey began after receiving a degree in Finance and Marketing from Iowa State University, when he got his first job with a retailer in Des Moines that set up Nike displays in 3rd- party sporting stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods. It wasn’t long before he made a name for himself in display marketing and was invited to move to Chicago and work for Nike. For five years, Christopher has made his mark coordinating the company’s Chicago Marathon event, an epic “Black Friday times 1,000” occasion in which the Nike main Chicago store—located just two blocks north of the runners’ route—remains open for 20 hours during the marathon. Over the course of the day, a stampede of 150,000 people come through the store and as coordinator, it’s Christopher’s job to manage the insanity. After five years on the project, he is training others to take his place this year so he can step back and pursue his new role as the Central Territory Production Presentation Specialist within Nike.
Christopher is part of a team that develops the story behind Nike products, and uses displays and imagery within a store to bring the customer journey to life.
“I love the work I do for Nike, and am excited about the new direction my career is taking,” Christopher said. “I get to be very strategic, thinking about how I can highlight specific apparel or footwear using design features in the store such as wall presentations, fixtures, or mannequins. It is rewarding to reach customers in a meaningful wayand really help these stores come to life. It’s fulfilling and I hope to stay here for a while, elevating Nike’s products through imagery and letting my role evolve.”
When his Nike workday ends, Christopher settles in for the 45-minute commute to rural Indiana, shaking off his corporate identity as his car rolls from bumper-to-bumper city traffic to the wide-open farmland found less than an hour outside America’s third largest city. Once home in Valpariaso, Christopher steps onto his 10-acre countryside oasis, surrounded by chickens and broodmares—a life he shares with his partner, Curtis Ksenak.
“It’s funny how often it surprises people to learn that I live on a farm, own chickens and show horses,” he said.“Horses have always been a part of my life, even when I couldn’t keep them in my downtown condo. It was my love for that lifestyle that inspired Curtis and me to move from downtown Chicago to our farm in Indiana.”
Christopher now has the best of both worlds. Working downtown allows him to take advantage of the shopping and restaurants that Chicago’s city-life offers and at the end of the day, he gets to return home to 45 chickens and threehorses: two plucky miniature pintos and colorful broodmare Zippos Fancy Feet.
“It’s been everything I hoped for and more,” he said.
While Christopher and Curtis unexpectedly inherited the chickens from the farm’s previous owners, Christopher has a lifetime of experience riding and showing horses. But even with the familiarity horses lend to the farm, the men are branching into a new area of equine unknown.
“Our new lifestyle has quite the learning curve. We have owned the farm for 18 months, and we have had to learn a lot of things as we go, but one thing we want to actively pursue is breeding and raising our own Paint Horses,” Christopher said. “In the past, I’ve had young horses and older, more finished horses, but I want to take the time and experience the whole process. I think it will be incredibly fulfilling to watch them grow and change.”
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2018 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.