Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Hey, what ever happened to… Sally Zack?

It is hard to believe that it’s been ten years since consummate professional Sally Zack suddenly left cycling at the zenith of her career to take on a a completely new challenge by becoming a cross-country ski racer. Of course, when one becomes acquainted with all of her achievements in so many cycling disciplines and reads of her passion to continue to “live, love and learn” from the back of her 1992 Shaklee cycling card you begin to understand the restless nature of this woman. You may also understand why it took us a few weeks of serious looking to track her down. We found her and the

Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.

She’s chillin’ in Fairbanks

By Matt Koschara and Scott Moninger

Zack of the North

Zack of the North

Photo:

It is hard to believe that it’s been ten years since consummate professional Sally Zack suddenly left cycling at the zenith of her career to take on a a completely new challenge by becoming a cross-country ski racer.

Of course, when one becomes acquainted with all of her achievements in so many cycling disciplines and reads of her passion to continue to “live, love and learn” from the back of her 1992 Shaklee cycling card you begin to understand the restless nature of this woman. You may also understand why it took us a few weeks of serious looking to track her down. We found her and the good news is that Sally Zack is alive and well and living in Fairbanks, Alaska.

VeloNews: Where did you grow up?

Sally Zack: I grew up in Intervale, New Hampshire near the White Mountains.

VN: How were you introduced to the sport of cycling?

SZ: I went to school at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. I was on the track and cross-country teams. I had foot injuries; mostly stress fractures. I started cycling to stay in shape for running during those injuries.

VN: Did you start cycling with the intention of racing?

SZ: No, I had watched some races and decided it looked intimidating. My main goal was to stay in shape and be able to tour across the country by bike. Those were my plans after I graduated from college. Instead, I met serious racers in Rockford Illinois who encouraged me to race; actually, pushed me to do a race and I found the speed and riding together in a pack exhilarating. I got hooked!

VN: How old were you when you started racing?

SZ: 22.

VN: What were your interests before you started racing?

SZ: Running, gymnastics, singing, hiking, dancing and teaching.

VN: Who inspired and influenced you in your first year of racing?

SZ: The woman who inspired me was Carol Brennan-Pettenski who lived in Rockford at the time. She had a lot of experience training and racing and was willing to show me the ropes. She strongly recommended that I do some Wheat Thins races with the short fast criteriums. I was more than scared, but she guided me throughout the races. On her advice, I took a flyer at the end of the race and placed third in the Chicago edition. I made $125 cash for placing third which was more than I had in the bank at the time!

The biggest thing, though, was that I met other women there that were making cycling their livelihood which I thought was the coolest thing. One of which was Judy Caunter who was also from New Hampshire and would later be one of my teammates. I left that race with the feeling that perhaps I could do the same and make cycling a career.

VN: Were your parents supportive of your interest in cycling?

SZ: My Mom always encouraged my interests. She was a little scared of the dangers of the sport but never discouraged my participation. She was thrilled that I had found a sport that I could put my energy into and find some satisfaction. I had just come from the frustration of trying to run through numerous injuries in collegiate running never finding my potential. My brothers and sisters were also interested in my racing and followed it as best they could. My brother Rob camped out on the dorm floor throughout the Olympic Trials in Spokane WA to cheer me on in the races. He flew to the World Championships and the Olympics to cheer me on. He was great support!

VN: Were you immediately good, or did it take time to develop?

SZ: I was good in the criteriums from the beginning but it took a long time to develop into an all around rider which I aspired to become. I was lucky to have a great level of fitness gained from collegiate racing when I came into the sport. The transition was made easier by training with a great group of guys of guys in Rockfield, Illinois. It was the group that encouraged me and believed that I could be competitive.

VN: When did you decide to make cycling a career?

SZ: I don’t remember actually deciding that I was going to make cycling a career. I had just graduated from college with a teaching degree. There were no job openings in Rockford at the time and when I went to the Chicago Wheat Thins race and realized that people were indeed making it a career; I thought to myself that perhaps I could do that too.

VN: In your opinion, what were your strengths and weaknesses as a rider?

SZ: My strength was that I had speed left after a long, hilly road race, so I could finish well. I didn’t have natural speed but just the endurance and determination to hang in there. My weaknesses were long climbs and time trials, although I was improving in both areas when I left the sport.

VN: What were your favorite and least favorite events?

There were so many great events it’s hard to choose just one! My favorite cycling event in this country was the Ore-Ida Women’s Challenge for stage races and Nevada City for one day race. I loved both venues for the beautiful countryside and the crowds of people gathered for the event. Nevada City in particular was such a fun course. I did the course in both directions in different years and loved it both ways!

My least favorite stage race was (Arizona’s Vuelta de)Bisbee for the flat, windy terrain ending with climbs in both directions. I just never felt in good shape when I raced there.

VN: What do you feel was your greatest accomplishment in your cycling career, and why?

I feel like my biggest accomplishment was making the 1988 and ‘92 Olympic teams. I had only been riding for three years prior to 1988 so it was a long shot to make the team. There was so much pressure to do well and I was able to hold myself together. I also felt the success the U.S. team had in the Tour de France Feminine was a big accomplishment. I had been selected for the team for my sprinting. I was determined to improve my climbing and time trialing to help the team. We won the team competition, Susan Elias won the combination jersey and Bunki and Katrin each won a stage.

I was 11th overall which I never thought was possible. All six team members were in the top 25.

VN: What was your favorite cycling team that you raced for and why.

SZ: My favorite team was the Lowry’s Team. There were a lot of talented riders who worked well together. I learned so much about team tactics. Jarek Bek was our coach and he had a unique way of working with a women’s team. It was a lot of fun! He was so dedicated to his athletes and worked so hard for us. It was a big step up for me to join that team in 1988 and I was thrilled with the opportunity.

I loved being on the Shaklee Women’s team too. I helped to start the women’s team and it gave me an excellent opportunity to expand my horizons. I had to do so much besides racing that made me appreciate more of the sport. It was great to have cheering Shaklee fans wherever we went as well.

VN: Was Physique really your favorite Shaklee product?

SZ: Yes! It helped me to recover after training and racing. Many times my stomach was in knots after races and I never felt like eating solid foods which I knew I needed to do as quickly as I could after a race or ride so it was a perfect substitute. How couldn’t I love that banana flavor?

VN: Who was your favorite team director and why?

My favorite team director was Len Pettyjohn. He directed the Lowry’s team. He had a professional attitude which I appreciated. He was fair and did what he said he was going to do. He promoted the women’s teams and encouraged us to race aggressively.

VN: Who was your favorite teammate?

It’s hard to choose just one teammate. Katrin Tobin was someone I aspired to become. She had such a positive attitude no matter the situation. Leslee Schenk and Bunki Bankaitis-Davis were great to be on a team with too. They were such strong riders. Leslee gave me some killer lead-outs! We had such fun times on and off the bike.

VN: When you started your last year of racing, did you know that you were going to retire?

SZ: When I started my last year of racing in 1993, I was unsure of whether I would continue racing the following year. I knew I needed more balance in my life and I knew I wanted to try some new things. I partially moved up to Alaska and immediately got involved with cross-country skiing. It was a sport that I had really enjoyed in Colorado. I decided to do the marathon series and Atomic skis sponsored me.

VN: If you could go back and do one thing different in your cycling career, what would it be?

SZ: If I had to go back and do one thing differently, I would relax more and enjoy the process from moment to moment. I was so wrapped up in feeling the pressure that there were times that I was way too stressed not just myself but to the people around me.

VN: What are you doing now?

SZ: My husband and I have a guiding business Alaska Heartland Adventures in Fairbanks, Alaska. We guide people who want to do hiking, backcountry ski trips and hunting. We put on a ski camp in late October and a Ultra-ski race in March. I teach a ski class at the University as well as for the Fairbanks Nordic Ski Club. We have two kids; five- and two-years-old.

VN: Do you remember the last cycling event you competed in?

SZ: I remember the race but not the name of it. It was a series final in Colorado Springs.

VN: Do you still ride, and if so, how often?

SZ: Yes, I still ride. I organize a women’s ride group once a week throughout the summer here in Fairbanks. I do some mountain biking in the winter along with the occasional indoor trainer workout. My five-year-old daughter just got a tag-along so now we will do some riding together.

VN: Do you follow cycling at all now?

SZ: I follow the Tour de France to see how Lance is doing. Besides that, I read the VeloNews site but I don’t have that much time to follow the sport as much as I would like.

VN: Who are you in contact with from the cycling world?

SZ: I keep in touch with Sandy Meister. I occasionally talk with Katrin and Bunki. Everyone leads such busy lives that unfortunately we don’t have more contact.

VN: How old are you?

SZ: I am 40-years-old! Yikes! I still feel like I am younger, though.


April 14, 2003 Hey,what ever happened to… Doug Smith?Do you know an American rider of years past that you might want tosee appear in this column? Drop us a note at WebLetters@7Dogs.com.