If you’re the guy who made fun of 32-year-old Zach Josie in transition last year, he’s only got one word for you: Thanks.
“There was someone who poked fun of my bike and stature while I was setting in T1 before the race. It’s a little petty on my part, but I blew past him on mile 10 of the bike, despite him starting two waves ahead of me,” Josie smiles. “When I checked the results later that day, I found out that I was almost an hour faster than him.”
Josie wants to be clear: This kind of thing rarely happens at races (“Usually everyone is so supportive,” he says), but when he meets condescending people or inappropriate remarks, it adds fuel to his already blazing competitive fire.
Josie was born with Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, or EVC. This rare type of dwarfism is characterized by short limbs, slightly bowed legs, and an abnormal development of bones. In addition to his short stature—Josie stands just under 5 feet tall—his EVC is also identified by abnormalities in teeth, nails, and the joints of his hands and feet. EVC manifestations often mean less flexibility and more discomfort when exercising. But that has never stopped him from pursuing excellence in sports; he just had to figure out what sport to tackle.
“My dreams of excelling in sports seemed to end in high school when the other kids hit their growth spurt and I stayed 5-foot, 110lbs,” he says. “In college, I found that while my legs were short, they packed a bit of power. I started riding the stationary bike, which led to spin classes. A while later, I started running because of my brother’s encouragement, and I enjoyed that even more. When I raced in my first 5K, and took fifth place, I realized I didn’t have to let dwarfism hold me back physically.”
Josie put the sports together in triathlon and never looked back.
“My short arms are by far my biggest challenge,” Josie says. “Learning to make adjustments for a more efficient swim stroke took a lot of work. Because trainers don’t have many dwarfs that request coaching, it’s even more difficult to maximize your swimming efficiency.” The same is true for cycling and riding—shorter legs mean a shortened pedal stroke and running stride. “I like to say my legs go a million miles an hour, but don’t take me anywhere,” he jokes.
Yet instead of backing away from challenges, he finds solutions: ways to strengthen his body to compensate for shorter limbs; a 45-centimeter bike that ts what he calls his “crazy disproportionate body”; a special-ordered wetsuit that could accommodate both his short, thick legs and broad shoulders; and a custom race kit that could t his particular dimensions. Josie has worked hard for his accomplishments in triathlon, which include an age-group win at a local sprint triathlon and Ironman 70.3 finishes in St. George and Indian Wells. He plans to compete in his first iron-distance race in 2020.
“I’m proof that our bodies are capable of things nobody thought possible,” Josie says. “I would encourage anyone to test their own limits.”
Zach Josie: “The World’s Fastest Dwarf”
Josie’s nickname comes from a chance encounter while he was competing in the Salt Lake City Half Marathon. “As I was finishing the race, a homeless guy yelled out, ‘There goes the fastest dwarf on earth!’ It was funny, random, and out of nowhere. I started laughing, but I was so stoked about my time that I started calling myself that—first as a joke, but then I started to believe it!”