Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Tribute to Zap Fitness

Pete Rea from Zap Fitness asked me to write a short blog for the website the other day explaining how I got involved with Zap and the story behind it.  Well it's hard to make the story short, but I did what I could, and here is the result:!

A Tribute to Zap Fitness-

Some of the 2005 Zapsters and I going for a hike in Blowing Rock, NC!!!

By: Stephanie Pezz Pezzullo

8 years ago I had a "chance" encounter on just a regular day that changed the course of my life.  It is crazy to think now about how that "chance" meeting with Zap Elite Coach, Pete Rea has been the ignition to what has fueled my life as a runner.  But I always knew it was more than just chance and am grateful to this day that it happened.

I was at a Clemson Soccer game with the all-famous Dominique Barnes, one of the Charlotte Lady Eagles Soccer Squad's main supporters and influences. We were there with a  few other Lady Eagle players and it was a beautiful fall day. Not only was it the Fall following the 2005 Lady Eagle Soccer Season, but that spring I had just graduated from Penn State.  It was the culmination of a  5 year span of playing Division 1 soccer as well as one surprise season of Women's Track and Field my last semester.
Domonique Barnes and some of the PSU soccer girls out for dinner in State College

Anyhow, at halftime of the game, I had a little extra energy and so I decided to go to the track for a little jog.  I saw this guy timing an athlete on the track and it all looked pretty serious so I tried to stay out of their way.  I finished my run but when I stopped to head back to the game, this guy and his athlete approached me.  He had noticed my Penn State shirt and after some small talk, it eventually came out that I had played soccer there as my main sport.  He kept probing, and I explained to him that when our soccer season got cut short my senior year, I wanted to attempt "the impossible" by trying out for the very prestigeous Women's Track team. The team was head up by Coach Beth Sullivan, who he happened to know. I told him that it all happened pretty quickly, but that I did what I had to do to make the team, and that throughout the season I ran in a few different middle distance events.  He then point blank asked what my times were and I told him that I got my 1500m time down to 4:29 by the end of the season.  I said it was hard work, but that I thrived on the competition and enjoyed the challenge.  BUT in my mind, competitive running was over, because  I didn't think that the one season resulted in anything spectacular? This guy known as Pete Rea from Zap Fitness, thought much differently!!
He insisted that the times I posted in the 800m and 1500m/mile distances were really promising given that I had never been a distance runner or trained for it in High School or College.  He gave me his number and said I should come to a race with his Elite training squad "Zap Fitness", or at least check out the facility in Blowing Rock, NC, 2 hours north of where I lived in Charlotte. I went back to the Clemson game and told Domonique about how funny it was that he knew Beth Sullivan, but I NEVER intended on giving him a call.

2006 Indoor Nationals 3k- My first National Caliber Race with Zap
Fast forward about a month and I still hadn't called Pete or thought much of it.  But Domonique had been urging me to give it a try and was always a force when it came to any woman pursuing sport!  She had come to all of the Lady Eagle games and even a bunch of my 2005 PSU soccer games and track meets.  She was convinced that I was born to be a competitor and that because there was no real Women's Professional leauge for soccer at the time, that I should see what this "Running" thing was all about. Of course, ...I was hesitant. I was working full time as a Personal Trainer and trying to get into the swing of things in Charlotte before the 2006 Semi-Pro Lady Eagle season would start again. However because of my competitive nature and the urging from Dom, the thought of "Elite" running and the curiosity of what it was, sat deep in the back of my mind. I eventually journaled and prayed about giving running a shot. On the outside, there wasn't any definite reason that I had the talent, but maybe Dom was right in that I should at least see what this "Elite Running" buisness was all about? I kept putting it off... until one day.  I had a bad day, a real bad one. It was the culmination of a really tough week and some emotional circumstances that had made me upset, to say the least.  So as has happned so many times in my life before, I decided to use my emotion or whatever you want to call it, and try to make some good out of it.  Just like I would do on the field or court in High School and College, except this time I went to a track. I  made up my own workout, killed myself for an hour or so and ran faster than I ever thought I could. Only this time there wasn't a ball.  It was just me and the rubber, and apparently the results of that workout proved to myself that I was ready for something.  That night I called up Pete!

Within 2 weeks of the call, with little to no formal training, I found myself driving to Blowing Rock, NC to stay in the mountains with people I didnt know and run in a 4 mile race in a place I had never heard of in Tennessee. The race was hard and it hurt like hell, but I think Pete was a bit surprised that I didnt finish too far off of his athletes. Even though I had never raced anything longer than a 5k, I somehow ran sub 6 minute pace which he said was good.  I didn't even know what the term "sub 6 meant"?  All I knew was that Pete said I did good and that was all I needed to hear! Within a month from that day, I found myself staying long weekends in the mountains with these "crazy" people who had "schedules" which I was not used to.  They ate at certain times, slept at certain times and ran everyday, sometimes twice!!!!  The athletes at Zap were, and still are dedicated and goal -driven people, and even though I at first thought they were crazy, I did love their passion for sport!

Zika Rea, Co-founder of Zap and now Pete's wife, was one of the main reasons why I continued with Zap and participated in some of the workouts.  She was willing to give me a chance in this very unforgiving sport right from the beginning.    They both seemed to know exactly how to train someone like me and explained to me the physiological benefits and purposes of each workout.  Every weekend was a challenge and after each workout or race with them, I was completely ZAPPED:)! (no pun intended) Soccer had not prepared me all the way for this type of training and my body had never been so sore! I remember thinking how physically painful it was to keep up with the other girls, but that I would not show them how much it hurt.  I wanted to show Pete and Zika I could hold my own and that they hadn't made a mistake. And Pete didn't bat an eyelash.  He used the same methods on me as he did everyone else and I loved that he tested my limits! If he told me to run backward for 100 miles I would have done it.  In fact, I listened to what everyone at Zap told me about running, and the next year and a half came with highlights that I never dreamed could occur.  Qualifying for Indoor and Outdoor Nationals on the track in the 3k and 3k Steeplechase were huge stepping stones.  I also put out some descent marks in a few big named road races like the Manchester Road Race and Tufts 10k.  Before I knew it, a few of these achievements had labeled me an "Elite Runner" and  had enabled me to become a true standard "A" Zap Athlete with Pete and Zika guiding me every step of the way

2004-2005 Zap athlete Amanda Chase and I dressing up for a workout:) of my best friends to this day!!!
In 2006, Zap supported me with a full schedule of workouts and races.  They talked to me about what they thought worked and what didn't and eventually helped me out financially so that I did not have to work as much and could come to Zap on Thursdays to stay and train through the weekends.  For 2 years they taught me everything I needed to know about the sport, all the while realizing that this was all so new to me.  They could probably guess that I was more of a natural athlete than runner, but still they encouraged me by saying that I had potential and could keep improving. And because they are the type of people who don't lie to make you feel good, I believed them. They may not have knew it, but they were in the midst of supporting a  dream that I had had since a very young age; to compete with the best,... no matter what sport it was in.  By 2007, there I was competing with the best and traveling all over the world, with a chance to run the 3k Steeplechase in the 2008 Olympic Trials.
A Christmas dinner with Zika, Pete, Amanda and myself!!

Of course no story comes without valleys.  Running wise, the 3 years that followed were tough.  I broke my ankle pretty badly in 2007 in a Steeplechase accident that Pete described as "something he never wanted to see again."  I'll never forget the look on his face when we went to the emergency room that day.  We both knew it was bad.  The accident forced me to have a major surgery and step aside from the sport for a couple years.  And so a comeback to be an Elite Runner again was questionable and slow in process. I never went back to being a Zap Athlete, mainly because we didn't know how the ankle would respond to heavy training again?  But also I am the type of personality that is to this day, a little more "scattered" and different, so I am not sure how long I would have made it on the mountain anyway!!  But I never forgot about what was accomplished those 2 years, and I never forgot the feeling I got when Pete Rea told me I was "good" or how Zika took a chance on me when she knew I was so new to the sport.  To this day, I believe God had a plan in it all and that He still does; and so I continue to run.  I have been blessed to travel all over the country and all over the world to run in races with some of the worlds best! I am affiliated with Team Alchemy and  Newton Running (Newton Running) which has been a huge goal since my competitive comeback in 2010 and I just was recently named one of the Running Times top 10 Woman Marathoner's of the year for running a 2:32 debut marathon.  Besides all that though, I know that the people I've met, the lessons I've learned and any successes I've had can all be traced back to Zap Fitness and the phenomenal program that they run. Sure, I've had ups and downs, but I am still plugging and still improving, determined to see what we can get out of this old, worn out soccer body.  Currently, I live and train in Charlotte under Coach Mark Hadley(Elite Marathoining Coach).  We have some lofty 2013 goals that I would like to achieve, but I try to take one day at a time and am already so thankful for what the sport has done for me and SO MANY people. 

To conclude, Pete wanted me to explain why I chose to donate 10% of all my Race Winnings/Prize money this past 2012 year to Zap.  I never planned on telling anyone and was hoping that he wouldn't either.  But if it will help Zap in any way, than thats what I'll do.  To me, it was the LEAST I could do for a program that has helped make my dreams become reality. If I could I would do more and for a longer time.  The athletes that come to Zap may not have come out of college with triple figure contracts, but they are hard working and talented individuals that a program like Zap gives the chance to flourish. The coaching, the system, the camps and the philosophy are all geared toward making you the best runner you can be and I think that's whats it about.  Maximizing your own potential to get out of running what you want out of it.  I feel that I still have a long way to go in the sport, and am not sure exactly how long I'll stay competitive, but I do know that it is only because of post-collegiate running groups like Zap Fitness that I at least have had the chance.  A chance is sometimes what we all need in life and Zap gives young people chances to fulfill their dreams.  I was just trying to mind my own business and watch a friend play soccer,.... but a chance was given to me that day, and I am so glad I took it!