ZAP Fitness Foundation (ZAP), founded in 2001, is a non-profit training center for post-collegiate, Olympic hopeful distance runners. Its founders Andy Palmer and his wife Zika came up with the idea as a way to give back to the sport of distance running, a sport that played a significant role in both their lives.
Andy, a life long athlete and two time Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier, was fortunate to begin his running career during the running boom of the 70’s and train in Boston with the likes of Bill Rodgers, Joan Samuelson, Greg Meyer and Bruce Bickford. While Andy had the opportunity to train with the best, his lack of financial support was a great hindrance to his running career. When his competitive days were over Andy acquired a PHD in Sports Psychology and adopted the motto “The Mind is the Athlete.” Andy began working with athletes of all ages and abilities to teach them the mental skills that could bring them athletic success.
In the late 90’s Zika, a good bit younger than Andy, was just getting started with her running career. Times had changed since the running boom and to her disappointment opportunities for motivated young post college runners were virtually non-existent. Runners were competing after college but there were no groups to train with and she found herself in a constant search for running partners.
Andy and Zika spent their summers working at Andy’s adult running camp in Bar Harbor Maine and Roy Benson’s High School camp in Asheville, NC where the couple first met in 1996. They started dreaming of a way to incorporate the running camp business with a way to help support Olympic hopeful post collegiate distance runners as well.
By 1999 they decided to make the idea of ZAP a reality and they began to look around the country for a place to do it. On their way back from Maine that summer a friend suggested they check out the towns of Boone and Blowing Rock nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. After one run at Moses Cone National Park and a day checking out the towns they fell in love with the area. The park has 25+ miles of carriage roads over hilly terrain at a moderate altitude of 3500/4000ft and the small towns offered the perfect environment for distance runners who don’t have the time nor energy for a lot of distractions.
Over the next year they bought 45+ acres in a valley just outside of Blowing Rock and began construction on the ZAP Facility. They built a lodge for 24 people to accommodate their running campers and other groups and in another building housing for the athletes they would support along with a dining room, kitchen, weight room and business offices. They created the ZAP Fitness Foundation and set a busy schedule of Adult Running Camps. Construction was completed in the winter of 2001-2002 and Andy and Zika were working hard to open their doors that summer.
On February 2, 2002 their dream of ZAP faced its first big hurdle. Andy died at the age of 48 from a heart attack while on a run at Moses Cone Park. Zika’s life was shattered but she refused to let their dream go and the doors of ZAP opened and their first athlete arrived that May.