A fitness renaissance
Some athletes might describe their success as reconciliation for past failures, but Paul Zarubin says he drew inspiration from being humbled.
The deaths of his friend Andre Benier and his father to cancer three years ago were two of those humbling experiences that made Zarubin want to get in better physical shape. The vehicle for his fitness renaissance has been riding his mountain bike, a hobby he took up about five years ago as a way to rehab a knee he had injured downhill skiing.
Now 51, the Tahoe Donner resident has qualified for the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) National Championships in the 50-plus Expert Division after storming through the Beginner and Sport divisions in 2003. In addition, he was recently named to the 2004 Masters World Championship Team, a designation awarded to the top three top riders in each age group. These riders are authorized to wear a special Stars and Stripes jersey at the Masters World Championship on Sep. 4 in Bromont, Quebec.
But before Zarubin ever thought of racing competitively, it was Benier who humiliated him in a leisurely mountain bike ride near Downieville, Calif.
“He kicked my butt,” Zarubin recalled. “I could never catch up with him. Andre was the most fit dude I knew, as far as eating right . . . excellent physique. A month later he found out he had full-blown Colon Cancer.”
About the same time Benier found out, Zarubin’s father was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Zarubin could not control their fate, but he figured he at least owed it to his friend and his father to reevaluate his own life.
“At that point, what I had done was made a conscious decision to improve my health,” Zarubin said. “I just didn’t want to go downhill (physically).”
Zarubin was always in decent shape, he said, but his goal now was to get in athletic shape.
By training on his mountain bike, Zarubin’s health began to improve, but he wanted more. That’s when he registered for the Downieville Classic race in the 50-54 Beginner Division in fall 2002. At the same place Benier had outraced Zarubin over a year earlier, Zarubin now rode in his friend’s memory. The result baffled Zarubin.
“I came in second,” he said. “I was shocked. I crashed. I had a really bad fall. I was on a really old bike. When I got to the finish, I’m covered in blood and mud; I just looked like I got beat up. It was a 28-mile race and there’s 4,000 feet of climbing and 5,000 feet of descending ” a lot harder than what we do in a regular NORBA race.”
With a second-place finish in a physically demanding race, Zarubin was determined to excel in the next NORBA racing season. At that Downieville race, Zarubin met professional racers Jamie Whitmore and her husband Courtney Cordenas. After training with Whitmore and Cordenas that winter, Zarubin was primed for success.
From February to August 2003, Zarubin took three first-place finishes in Beginner and three in Sport in what he calls his breakout year. With another first place in Sport on Oct. 12, Zarubin felt he owed it to his pride to move up to Expert (Men 50-54) in 2004.
“I didn’t want to be called a sand-bagger. I was beating guys pretty wickedly,” he said.
With his goal set on an invitation to the national championships, Zarubin needed a top 5 finish in a national series race or to finish in the top 5 in the overall series. In his first national series race in the Expert Division, Zarubin was once again humbled in a 10th-place finish at Waco, Texas, on March 13. Following that performance with two eighth-place finishes in California State Series races and a seventh in the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, he began to get apprehensive.
“When I started racing this year, I was in a real slump. I just felt really terrible, and I didn’t have any power or strength. I realized that perhaps I set my goals too high,” he said.
But on May 15 in the second national series race at Sonoma, Calif., Zarubin took fourth, earned his invitation to the national championships and decided to scratch the state series and focus specifically on nationals. As recently as June 19, Zarubin took another fourth in a national race in Vermont.
On Saturday, July 31, he heads to Sandpoint, Idaho, for the sixth race in the national series. There are eight races in the series, with the final two at Snowmass, Colo., on Aug. 7 and Durango, Colo., on Aug. 28. Zarubin currently leads his age division with 722 points after five races.
Zarubin thinks he can win the national series title by placing first or second in the remaining three races. Zarubin said his other goal is to place in the top 5 at the Masters World Championships.
He has also taken first place in two races at the local Northstar-at-Tahoe Thursday Night Cross Country Race Series in 2004.
Although Zarubin’s success comes outdoors on the track, the key to that success is his stationary bike training. One element of that training is on his Indoor Cycling Education (ICE) Tomahawk, which sits in the downstairs office of his Tahoe Donner home.
The other element is his love for spin classes. Zarubin is a seasonal spin instructor at Paramount Fitness in Truckee, but he also attends classes taught by fitness instructors at 24 Hour Fitness in Reno. Zarubin said he’ll do a combination of these indoor training techniques at least four times a week.
Contrary to what a mountain bike enthusiast might think, Zarubin is content with training indoors.
“The problem with being outside is every time you go up, you have to come down. On this thing you just climb for two and a half hours,” he said, referring to his Tomahawk.
Zarubin’s love for spinning was born on a Hawaii vacation. He and his wife Lynn decided to take a stationary bike class. Lynn has since started going regularly with Zarubin, but it wasn’t so easy that initial time.
“This little girl (instructor) just kicked my butt, so I’m humbled again ” first by a guy with full-blown cancer and now by a skinny girl that just had twins and a hip replacement. She was telling me to push harder and stop being a wimp,” he said.
He also said he owes a lot of recognition to former 24 Hour Fitness spin instructor Alana Krone, who taught him cycling basics, including proper breathing technique and how to relax the upper body.
So, if he’s not outside tearing up the race track, Zarubin is most likely prepping indoors.
“With Andre and my dad getting sick, I decided I was going to turn it around, and spinning has turned it around for me,” he said.
Three more main elements of Zarubin’s success are his wife Lynn, his construction business and a higher power.
“The most important person is my wife Lynn, who goes to my races, hands off water bottles, cheers me on, and on occasion tapes me back together or waits for me in the Emergency Room. Without her I would not be able to do this,” Zarubin wrote in an e-mail response.
Zarubin also owns Mt. Lincoln Construction.
“We’re a corporation, so they help me out a lot with travel. I have a great crew, great workers, staff and they all support my racing. They get behind me and allow me to leave and keep the company going,” he said.
Finally, an active member of the Sierra Bible Church, Zarubin races under the motto “Powered by God.”
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