I would imagine that, given your remote location and intimate living situation, you have to consider more than just the talent level of candidates. You also need personalities that fit with the group.
Perhaps more than any other group. We have a beautiful training facility in the mountains, but we are in a town of 800 people on a dirt road. It’s not for everyone, which is why we ask our candidates to come out for a few days and spend time with the team, help Zika work on the website, help our chef prepare a meal. You never know; with the way we run our business and raise our funds, one day you might be helping our chef prepare a meal, the next day you might be out in a field on a tractor.
For a lot of city kids who come here it’s a bit eye-opening. But we also get the kids who really like a rural lifestyle and like the solitude of training [here] and working an online job on the side. But our environment is one where it has to be the right fit. Plus, our athletes live very close together. The housing is all here within two houses and three apartments, so it’s tight-knit and we have to have athletes who get along with others.
I have this mental image of that scene from Rocky IV where they’re preparing for the fight and Rocky’s doing everything super old-school, chopping wood and running through snowdrifts, while Ivan Drago is surrounded by men in lab coats and doing everything high-tech. Is that the difference between ZAP Fitness and the Nike Oregon Project?
Well, you know, I think Paulie and Mick might be a little disappointed to learn that we have an Alter-G! But the basic concept is putting athletes together in an environment where everyone wants to get better. That’s the idea that Zika and Andy had when they put ZAP together. It was definitely training based—Andy was a believer in volume, as am I—but more than any detailed training philosophy it was just the idea that you put people together and they all desperately want to be good in any way—any legal way—they can.
I would guess that while runners come there to improve, they come away with a lot more. I can’t imagine spending a few years in that environment without having a life-changing experience.
It’s funny you say that, because half our funding comes from the facility and the other half comes from donations on the nonprofit side. Zika and I were just looking at this year’s numbers and saw that 13 former ZAP athletes donated. To me that says a lot. It means a great deal to us and it tells me they appreciated everything they got from us.
One of the differences between ZAP and some of the other elite teams is that I can’t just walk onto the Nike campus and run with Galen Rupp and Kara Goucher, but you’ve got your adult summer running camps there, where everyday runners like me can mingle with your athletes.
Right, well if you showed up everyone would want an autograph on one of your books! But yeah, we do about six weeks of running camps every year, some long weekends and some full weeks. It’s every end of the spectrum. This year about 20 percent of the people who came had been running less than a year, and at the other end of the spectrum we have runners who come every year, they run four or five marathons a year. This year we had a couple of women who broke three hours in the marathon. And the ages range from 14 to 68. So it’s pretty neat.
To learn more about running camps at ZAP Fitness, or to donate to the program, click here.