Wheels on fire
Zoltan Zsohar never played T-ball or owned soccer cleats as a kid, but he did become a gold-medal athlete.
The White Rock resident was born while his family was fleeing conflict following World War II and became a cycling champion late in life.
Zsohar’s book, “Surviving Through Faith,” describes his parents’ agonizing escape from Hungary during the Russian occupation after the war.
“Russians were committing unthinkable atrocities everywhere they went,” he writes in the book. “Because they were drugged, the Russian soldiers were not afraid of anything. They showed no emotion. Russian soldiers were raping females regardless of their age, from 8 to 80.”
His parents escaped with their children to an American zone in Austria, where Zsohar was born. The refugee family lived for months in a wagon and tent before coming to Texas.
Zsohar grew up in Waxahachie but he didn’t start running until age 32. Beginning in the 1980s, he worked out at the YMCA and started running marathons.
At age 60, he took a weeklong bicycle tour of Colorado, traveling nearly 500 miles with daily climbs through the Rockies. He was so strong that fellow cyclists encouraged him to try racing.
Zsohar’s sister told him about the Senior Games, a national competition for older athletes. To qualify for the national event, he first had to compete in regional and statewide contests.
In 2008, Zsohar entered his first bicycle race for the Houston-area Senior Games. Though he was a novice racer and didn’t have the same pricey aerodynamic equipment as many, he won three gold medals and a silver.
“I was like a bat out of hell,” he says of that first race. “The other riders were drafting off of me. I didn’t realize that I was leading them to the finish line.”
He finished second and learned not to block the wind for other racers.
He won the next race and eventually qualified for nationals. At the National Senior Games in San Francisco in 2009, he took home a bronze medal in the 20k race, and silver in the 40k.
During the 2013 national games in Cleveland, it was pouring rain for the entire 40k course, which included eight harrowing U-turns. In the final quarter-mile, Zsohar caught the lead group and won his first gold at the national level.
Zsohar competed in the National Senior Games this past June, at age 70, winning a silver medal and two bronzes and was named a “Humana Game Changer” for promoting healthy living.
Bike racing is Zsohar’s passion. He loves the thrill of competing, and he puts in work, riding about 200 miles a week all around North Texas.
“Everybody calls me Smoke because I smoke up those mountains,” he says.
He lives in the perfect place to be committed to cycling. His front porch in the Peninsula neighborhood looks out onto the lake. He’s known to help people with flats and invite fellow riders to join him on his front porch for a glass of wine. “It’s those little unique things that happen that make living here such a great place,” he says. “We built this deck to sit and watch the sunset and welcome people.”