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Tom Ziebart grew up in St. Joseph, Mich., and, like most kids born in the mid-1950s, he played basketball, football and baseball. It was only after he started teaching in Florida in the early ’80s that he heard about the sport of triathlon. After racing his first triathlon in 1981, Penrod’s Tinman, Ziebart was hooked. “I remember the entry fee was $15 and Scott Tinley and Scott Molina were both there,” he says. “I wore a football helmet during the bike ride, but I took the facemask off.”
By 1986 Ziebart had left teaching and was organizing races throughout Southern Florida. “It was so much easier to put on races back then,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot of permitting or dealing with insurance during those early days. The key was to find a course with a lot of right-hand turns on the bike so you wouldn’t need to put police at the intersections.”
Triathlon magazine premiered in the spring of 1983 and had Dave Scott on the cover. The first issue of Tri-Athlete magazine came out in May 1983 with Dean Harper on the cover. Ziebart secured copies of both initial publications and has at least one copy of every edition of those magazines and, after they merged and became Triathlete magazine in 1986, he continued to keep a copy of every single issue.
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How big is the collection? Well, he didn’t have room for it in his house so he took over the walk-in closet at his mother’s house, where his collection still resides, each copy in its very own plastic sleeve. “I try to get two copies of each issue and then get one of the issues signed by the athlete on the cover,” he says. “One of the toughest challenges was in November of 2010 when Triathlete had a fold-out pre-Ironman cover with Chrissie Wellington, Andy Potts, Craig Alexander, Eneko Llanos, Samantha McGlone, Julie Dibens, Mirinda Carfrae and Dirk Bockel all on it. Getting all of those signatures wasn’t easy.”
On his spreadsheet (yes, he keeps a spreadsheet), he keeps a tally of cover appearances. Mark Allen is the hands-down leader with 21 covers over the years, followed by Dave Scott with 15, Scott Tinley with 11, Michellie Jones with 10 and Paula Newby-Fraser with eight. “Before I head off to Kona each October, I look through the ones that haven’t been autographed and bring the appropriate ones with me,” he says. “Over the years I’ve tracked down the cover models for the issues I didn’t have autographed and they’ve all been kind enough to not only send me back the autographed magazine, but also to include a nice note. I had the hardest time tracking down the Puntous sisters up in Canada, but I found them through Facebook. They were on three covers and they also sent back a note along with a photo of them today.”
Today, Tom Ziebart is an operations manager for World Triathlon Corporation and oversees nine Ironman and 70.3 events. Of course, that work stuff only happens when he finds the time to squeeze it in around his collecting.
The problem with his particular hobby is that it has been going on now for 30 years and there is absolutely no end in sight. “It’s not like I can stop,” he says, laughing. “I’ll be doing this forever!”
Bob Babbitt is the co-founder of Competitor magazine, the co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the host of Competitor Radio and an inductee into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. To hear his interviews with more than 500 endurance legends, visit Competitorradio.com.