Zak Covalcik, vegan track cyclist
Zak Covalcik, vegan track cyclist
Zak Covalcik is a track cyclist competing at US national level.
He has won twenty six medals at Elite National level and is ten times Oregon state champion. He has been US National Champion five times. He’s also successfully raced in Trinidad & Tobago, Germany and Tasmania.
In 2012 he was the Omnium National Champion, Team Pursuit Champion and National Track Calendar Endurance Champion. In 2013 he retained his title of National Track Calendar Endurance Champion and in 2014 he took another title as Team Pursuit National Champion. In 2016 he was the Madiscon National Champion and Scratch Race National Champion. In 2017 he was the Madison Pan Am Champion - his third Pan Am medal.
Five-time National Champion
26 - time National Medallist
Zak also worked as a cycle messenger and entered the fixed gear North American Cycle Courier Championships, which he won twice. As a man who loves his sport, Zak has his own highlights.
“The most exciting things I've ever done was ride the European professional sixdays. Riding one of these races was my ultimate goal in sport and at the end of 2012 I was very lucky to get to ride the Berlin and Copenhagen sixes. These events are very exciting spectator focused races and a ton of fun. Winning my national championships in 2012 in the omnium and team pursuit was also a very proud and emotional time. That really validated all the hard work that my coach had invested in me years ago when I was just a punk bike messenger years earlier.”
Happy New Vegan
Zak went vegan on New Year’s Eve 2004 aged 21. He was already vegetarian due to animal cruelty and recognised that he was still eating animal products. He was involved in the punk movement and Food Not Bombs. “I made a conscious decision to go vegan and haven't ever looked back. I didn't start racing bikes until 2006 at age 23, so I've never had a frame of reference for being athletic from a non vegan perspective.” It also meant that all of Zak’s impressive achievements have been done on a vegan diet.
His coach was sceptical of a vegan diet at the time, although race results and the emergence of more vegan sportspeople have validated Zak’s choice. Although Zak still tells us “I really wish I had a nickel for every stupid question I've heard about where I get my protein.” Through his career Zak has benefited from practical support from his friend Matt Ruscigno, who is a vegan, registered dietitian with a Master's in public health. Matt is also an accomplished vegan ultra endurance athlete. He co-wrote ‘No Meat Athlete’, lectures and consults.
What does he eat?
Broccoli and burritos make a regular part of his diet, although pizza and ice cream also feature. When travelling things may be a bit different. “Trinidad and Tobago was a hard place to find food until I found the all the amazing street food vendors with vege roti and "doubles" (basically chana and fried bread) which now basically sustain me on all my trips there” Zak explained – which is a contrast to other extremes when he has prepared food in his hotel room.
The Euro Six Day races are less easy, because race organisers provide food, leaving few options beyond rice and pasta sauce. In Berlin he made a quick visit to a vegan kebab spot ‘Vöner’. Copenhagen saw him far from good sources both at the track and the accommodation, so he supplemented with cans of beans and fresh veggies.
“As long as you can find a halfway decent grocery store and you don't mind being creative, there's always food.”
Zak is still competing and still loving his sport. We asked him about plans for the future. “My goals in cycling are first and foremost to have FUN! I want to race the Euro six days on a regular basis and perhaps do some world cups or world championships. I also enjoy mentoring up and coming racers and introducing people to the amazing sport that is track cycling.”
More info elsewhere online