Los Angeles Badgers chapter leader gets the surprise of a lifetime.
When Fred Cichy ’07 got an email looking for “real people who are pursuing their dreams,” he had no idea that he would end up on national television. By day, Cichy runs his own in-home healthcare business. But on nights and weekends, he tirelessly plays gigs, weddings, and events to pursue his other passion: music.
As a psychology major at UW-Madison, he played in numerous bands — ranging from “hippie jam bands” to his current genre, acoustic rock. In 2007, he experienced three milestones: he graduated from the UW; his band, Trio, won the UW’s Battle of the Bands; and he moved to California.
He wasn’t the type to wait tables while peddling his EP, which is why he established a career in health care instead of pursuing music full time. “I wasn’t willing to take that dive, I guess,” he says. “It’s always just kind of been my passion, a hobby.”
But when American Family Insurance (AmFam) came knocking about a “documentary-style commercial” featuring his music, he jumped at the chance. Months later, Cichy’s commercial aired nationally as part of AmFam’s “Dream Fearlessly” campaign. The campaign features real people who are pursuing big dreams, and sends celebrities to surprise them. Some people meet Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, and others meet Wisconsin’s own JJ Watt, defensive end for the Houston Texans. When Cichy signed on to the commercial, little did he know he’d be meeting not one, but both of them.
The theme of the AmFam campaign is “Dream Fearlessly.” Moving to California, pursuing your music — was it easy to be fearless?
Partially why I didn’t take that dive is fear: fear of failure. What if you give something your all and you lose? But the only way to jump into something is to take that dive. This experience — not to be corny — has shown me that.
You’ve gone from playing for students to performing in front of two star athletes —JJ Watt and Kevin Durant. What ran through your head when they showed up at your gig?
It was utter confusion at first. They were holding signs with my name on it. I was like, “Is this really happening?” The musician in me, the performer — you don’t stop. You just keep going. I don’t think my reaction is what the director would’ve hoped … I did keep going, and then the director waved his hands and was like, “You can acknowledge them now!” So I did. It was really cool. More so, it was a really cool experience to chat with them for a while.
What did you guys talk about?
Right away, I talked to JJ about the Badgers. They wanted me to explain what I’m doing: what my day job is, what I’m trying to do with music. … Seeing them, having that support, and learning that they chose me; I can’t just let that go to the wayside. I’m trying to take this opportunity and ride it as much as I can.
AmFam found you through your work as the LA Badgers’ social-committee chair. How did you first get connected with your Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) chapter?
I was hiring for an internal position here on my team, and I was having trouble. I reached out to the LA Badgers’ Facebook page … I ended up getting a great hire who’s been with me for a couple years now. I was so happy with [the experience], I was like, “Hey, how can I get involved? How can I give back?” So I got involved! It’s such a great network. I’m grateful for it.
What would you tell alumni who might be nervous about joining a WAA chapter in their community?
Think about when you were entering your freshman year. Everyone else entering was in that same boat — that’s why it was easy to meet people. When you’re in a new city, everyone else is in the same boat. … Just understand that, and let your guard down and be vulnerable so that they know that they can do that, too. It’s going to take everybody to build a strong network.
If you could transplant one thing from Madison to LA, what would it be?
The people. Midwest people are the best! That mentality, that mindset … those people would be amazing to have in California.
Watch JJ Watt and Kevin Durant surprise Fred at one of his gigs in the video below. For more information on how to find your local WAA chapter and get involved, visit chapters.uwalumni.com.