Zoltan Zsohar, 71, Dallas, Texas
Competing from Z to A
What makes for a competitor? There are many possible answers to that, but for cyclist Zoltan Zsohar, it might just have started with his name.
“I was last kid in line in a lot of situations,” he explains. “When I started college they assigned seats in alphabetical order. Because the classes were overbooked at first, I ended up standing in the back of the class. So, when I became a junior and they stopped doing that, I would get to class 20 minutes early to grab the front row seat in the center.”
Zoltan, better known as “Z” to friends and family, is not the very last name on the National Senior Games athlete list (that honor belonged to Julian Zuniga of Oklahoma in 2017) but his competitive spirit and work ethic has landed him at or near the top of the list with 54 Senior Games cycling medals, six coming from National Senior Games since his first in 2009. He was also named a Humana Game Changer in 2017 for his dedication to motivating adults to stay active and live a healthy lifestyle.
His unusual name Zsohar is Hungarian. His parents escaped Hungary at the end of World War II and came to America in 1950, settling in Waxahachie, Texas. “Z”, who was born in Austria, remembers the drive to Dallas for the entire family to be sworn in as U.S. citizens six years later.
An engineering career and raising family left him overweight and out of shape in midlife. He learned good eating habits, took a YMCA membership and then started running, losing 50 pounds in the process. “I had to make a lifestyle change, and I still do the same things today that got me into shape,” he says with a Texas drawl.
When he completed his first marathon, “Z” set his sights on running the Boston Marathon, which he achieved in 1989 and twice more in 1995 and 1996. “It was absolutely amazing to run in a world class event with the most elite runners in the world, and to witness the spectators lined up all the way along 26.2 miles,” he recalls.
That was his tenth and last marathon before arthritis in his knee caused a transition to cycling, which he has enjoyed since he was a kid. “Plus, I always hated running in the Texas summers when it’s so hot,” he admits. “It’s a joy to ride outdoors and enjoy the scenery with a breeze and burn calories at the same time.”
The Games in Albuquerque will be his first road races and time trials in New Mexico, and “Z” has done his homework. “I noticed there’s a hill involved in the road races there,” he says. “I just went to the Texas Hill Country riding over 260 miles and doing climbs that were 12 and 14 percent inclines. It was a training camp for me.”
Asked what motivates him, “Z” says it’s more about his health than anything, “But I can’t deny I love the competition. When I’m out riding around White Rock Lake in Dallas it’s not unusual to pass somebody up, and they think ‘I don’t want that old guy passing me’ so they pass me back up. Pretty soon we’re racing and having a good time at it. I’ve met a lot of good people that way.”